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Amid the woods and fields, under the clear sky, and with the fresh morning airs breathing life into him anew, the simple consciousness of existence carries with it an enjoyment so refined, that he hastens to give utterance to his emotions in language whose eloquence conveys them with unimpaired force and freshness to the reader.
A subject that frequently engages the attention of Emerson, is the position of the man of letters. Amid much admirable matter on this topic, there is one point that seems to him of much importance, and to which we have hitherto given little heednamely, the advantage to the scholar of some degree of physical labour. He conceives truly, that there is an education of the hands, an experience of a high and valuable order, which the closet alone can never supply. In his oration on Man Thinking, he also draws an able and just distinction between the mere student and the Man in the study : as between the mere farmer, whose thoughts are bounded by his acres, and man on the farm; man not dwarfed, or shorn of the fair complement of his man. hood, and reduced to a mere vegetable and plodding existence; but, reaping not only his corn, but the moral education which it should also bring. “Among the multitude of scholars and authors," he observes, “we feel no hallowing presence; we are sensible of a knack and skill, rather than of inspiration. ... The talent is some exaggerated faculty, some overgrown member, so that their strength is a disease.”
Emerson is himself a scholar of no mean order. He possesses a wide acquaintance with classic lore, and evinces a familiarity with writers hardly known by name to the general reader. He is also deeply read in our modern literature, more especially in the philosophers of Germany, and our own elder Dramatists; and even culls an occasional extract from the Orientals. Most catholic and hearty is his appreciation of tbat august brotherhood, who reveal to us the spirit of the past, and, from its grey twilight sky, shine down on us with so serene a lustre. We find him extending the hand of fellowship to the cold majestic Zeno and—Zoroaster the mystic devotee; to Confucius and–Thomas Carlyle ; to the great doubting Goethe and—the humble believing George Herbert. Alike, from ancient Mythology and modern Belief, from science and poetry, he draws materials to illustrate and embellish, to give force and precision to, his thought. • With a becoming reverence for the rich stores of knowledge bequeathed to us by the past, he has no unwise tenderness for its errors. Nothing is too venerable, but it must render itself for judgment to the mind of the inquirer. The hoar of antiquity cannot in any degree make it credible; and consenting tradition confer lity, no authority, that shall render further and fearless investigation unnecessary. His theory of books is noble. “They are for nothing but to inspire. I had better never see a book than be warped by it clean out of my own orbit, and made a satellite instead of a system. The one thing in the world of value, is the active soul-the soul free, sovereign, active."
It has been remarked of Goethe, that his mind was too large and liberal, to accept the shackles of party, on any of the great questions of human interest. The reader who would determine whether or no Emerson believes thus and thus, in relation to the prevailing divisions of opinion, will find himself in a similar difficulty to the Germans with Goethe; and will possibly end his inquiry by terming Emerson, also, the "all-sided.” Truth is to him, not the monopoly of one class, or of many. It is present in all systems and dogmas, in greater or lesser proportion : complete in none. But this view neither leads him to the indifference of the sceptic, nor the eclecticism of the modern French school, which, by carefully placing all systems in an alembic, can so easily distil the true philosophy. We find him in one lecture, admirably expounding the argument for Conservatism; in another, asserting the imprescriptible rights of the individual, against the oppression of a class, and rejoi. cing in the decay of kingly and aristocratic power: at one time he lingers with awe amid the fanes of an early religion, and would hear the oracle; and anon he expands and warms in the benign influences of Christian philanthropy, and finds in its humility, in its estimate of the great worth of the human soul, in the filial and affectionate nature of its piety, and in its exaltation of inward purity above mere externals, a faith “worthy of all acceptation.” Now he loves to dwell on the dim pages of the past, and then begins to prophesy of a new literature, that, Titan-like, will yet arise, to hallow with its genius that mighty continent, where the enterprise of the Anglo-American has already conceived, and carried out, designs of commensurate vastness, for his commerce and physical well-being; but where he has yet to create for himself, in worthy spirit and form, a philosophy and history that shall animate him to a noble and true life ; and has yet to sing his poetry in no weak and imitative strain. And to that new literature Emerson himself brings the noblest, the most original, and profound contribution that has yet proceeded from an American pen. He has a sturdy independence, both of thought and style, that gains, in freshness and vigour, what it wants in conformity to European standards and a smooth mediocrity. He finds a music in the ring of the woodman's axe in the primeval forest, and a rude virtue and promise in the Backwood settler; and a charm in a republican sim. plicity and earnestness of life, speech, and behaviour, which he would not exchange for ēmēģū2?Â2âÒâtiū2 Ò2ÂòÂ2Ò2Âffi2ti2m22ti â§2 §Â§Â2Ò2Â§Â2Ò2Â§2§22/2/2ūti\/2ūtiņòâūtiņ civilization, but exalt the man, and assert the sacredness and supreme value of the present hour and place, to a great soul.
Much of the charm of Emerson's writings lies in the exceedingly picturesque, and often beautiful language, in which he clothes his ideas. Many passages might be quoted in which he rises into the region of poetry. His style abounds in illustration and imagery. Though he does not cast about to express his convictions in polished phrase that shall win the general ear, but in words, forcible and strong as the thought he would utter, yet there is not unfrequently a certain measured and stately music in the structure of his sentences. In many places he combines, in a high degree, a poetical warmth and cultivated fancy, as when in describing a sunrise he concludes thus: “How does nature deify us with a few cheap elements ! Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous. The dawn is my Assyria; the sunset and moonrise my Paphos, and unimaginable realms of Faerie ; broad noon shall be my England of the senses and the understanding; the night shall be my Germany of mystic philosophy and dreams!”
We cannot disguise the fact, that on a first perusal, Emerson offers many difficulties. Sometimes we fail to seize his meaning, from a looseness of language ; sometimes, from his omitting a link in the idea, in his haste to give to it utterance in the completed form ; and often, because he is within the threshold of those higher specula. tions to which we recur again and again, but to feel, as we retire baffled from the inquiry, that in the human soul there are more mysteries than can be fathomed by its philosophy. But despite these drawbacks, he who approaches the study of the writings of Emerson, in that spirit of patient and reverent investigation which the utterances of one sincere and thoughtful mind demands of another, will be rewarded. Difficulties will disappear; and if a dimness seems to rest on the outlines of that calm colossal soul, we still discern enough to estimate aright its broad and noble proportions. And when we are compelled to dissent from his views, as dissent we sometimes must, we shall do it with respect for the convictions of another, so temperately stated.
In conclusion, we would repeat it, the writings of Emerson have a tendency most elevating, spiritual, and catholic. They are pervaded by a deep piety-by a love of all genial and healthy feelings-of all brave souls and heroic deeds-of all free and earnest thought and endeavour-of every movement that can aid the cause of human progress, which ever lies nearest his heart. And if we would in one sentence express what seems to us the chief excellence of Emerson, it would be, by quoting, as referable to his writings in a peculiar degree, those words, in which he so beautifully speaks of the “souls who made our souls wiser.” “ We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary days of routine and of sin, with HISTORY
made our souls wiser: that spoke what we thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we inly were. Discharge to men the priestly office, and, present or absent, you shall be followed by their love as by an angel.”
I am owner of the sphere,
THERE is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is, or can be, done ; for this is the only and sovereign agent.
Of the works of this mind, history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But always the thought is prior to the fact; all the facts of history pre-exist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopædia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.
This human mind wrote history, and this must read it. The Sphinx must solve her own riddle. If the whole of history is in one man, it is all to be explained from individual experience. There is a relation between the hours of our life and the centuries of time. As the air I breathe is drawn from the great repositories of nature, as the light on my book is yielded by a star a hundred millions of miles distant, as the poise of my body depends on the equilibrium of centrifugal and centripetal forces, so the hours should be instructed by the ages, and the ages explained by the hours. Of the universal mind, each individual man is one more incarnation. All its properties consist in him. Every step in his private experience flashes a light on what great bodies of men have done, and the crises of his life refer to national crises. Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era. Every reform was once a private opinion, and when it shall be a private opinion again, it will solve the problem of the age. The fact narrated must correspond to something in me to be credible or intelligible. We, as we read, must become Greeks, Romans, Turks, priest and king, martyr and executioner,—must fasten these images to some reality in our secret experience, or we shall see nothing, learn nothing, keep nothing. What befell Asdrubal or Cæsar Borgia, is as much an illustration of the mind's powers and depravations as what has befallen us. Each new law and political movement has meaning for you. Stand before each of its tablets and say, “ Here is one of my coverings. Under this fantastic, or odious, or graceful mask, did my Proteus nature hide itself.” This remedies the defect of our too great nearness to ourselves. This throws our own actions into perspective: and as crabs, goats, scorpions, the balance and the waterpot, lose all their meanness when hung as signs in the zodiac, so I can see my own vices without heat in the distant persons of Solomon, Alcibiades, and Catiline.
It is this universal nature which gives worth to particular men and things. Human life as containing this is mysterious and inviolable, and we hedge it round with penalties and laws. All laws derive hence their ultimate reason, all express at last reverence for some command of this supreme illimitable essence. Property also holds of the soul, covers great spiritual facts, and instinctively we at first hold to it with swords and laws, and wide and complex combinations. The obscure consciousness of this fact is the light of all our day,—the claim of claims,-the plea for education, for justice, for charity,--the foundation of friendship and love, and of the heroism and grandeur which belongs to acts of self-reliance. It is remarkable that involuntarily we always read as superior beings. Universal history, the poets, the romancers, do not in
their stateliest pictures,- in the sacerdotal, the imperial palaces, in the triumphs of will, or of genius, anywhere lose our ear, anywhere make us feel that we intrude, that this is for our betters; but rather is it true that, in their grandest strokes, there we feel most at home. All that Shakspeare says of the king, yonder slip of a boy that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself. We sympathise in the great moments of history, in the great discoveries, the great resistances, the great prosperities of men ; because there law was enacted, the sea was searched, the land was found, or the blow was struck for us, as we ourselves in that place would have done or applauded.
So is it in respect to condition and character. We honour the rich because they have externally the freedom, power, and grace, which we feel to be proper to man, proper to us. So all that is said of the wise man by stoic, or oriental, or modern essayist, describes to each man his own idea, describes his unattained but attainable self. All literature writes the character of the wise man. All books, monuments, pictures, conversation, are portraits in which the wise man finds the lineaments he is forming. The silent and the loud praise him, and accost him, and he is stimulated wherever he moves as by personal allusions. A wise and good soul, therefore, never needs look for allusions personal or laudatory in discourse. He hears the commendation, not of himself, but more sweet, of that character he seeks, in every word that is said concerning character; yea, further, in every fact that befalls in the running river, and the rustling corn. Praise is looked, homage tendered, love flows from mute nature, from the mountains and the lights of the firmament.
These hints, dropped as it were from sleep and night, let us use in broad day. The student is to read history actively and not passively; to esteem his own life the text, and books the commentary. Thus compelled, the muse of history will utter oracles, as never to those who do not respect themselves. I have no expectation that any man will read history aright, who thinks that what was done in a remote age, by men whose names have resounded far, has any deeper sense than what he is doing to-day.
The world exists for the education of each man. There is no age, or state of society, or mode of action in history, to which there is not somewhat corresponding in his life. Everything tends in a most wonderful manner to abbreviate itself and yield its whole virtue to him. He should see that he can live all history in his own