« VorigeDoorgaan »
lator, the artist—as the most distin than he was during his long residence guished figure in the society about him. in Concord, or more looked upon as It is because he has most to give up the principal gentleman in the place. that he is appealed to for efforts and This was conspicuous to the writer of sacrifices. " Meantime I know that a these remarks, on the occasion of the very different estimate of the scholar's curious, sociable, cheerful public profession prevails in this country,” funeral made for him in 1883 by all he goes on to say in the address from the countryside, arriving, as for the which I last quoted (the Literary last honours to the first citizen, in trains Ethics), "and the importunity with in waggons, on foot in multitudes. It which society presses its claim upon was a popular manifestation the most young men tends to pervert the views striking I have ever seen provoked by of the youth in respect to the culture the death of a man of letters. of the intellect.” The manner in If a picture of that singular and very which that is said represents, surely, illustrative institution, the old Ameria serious mistake : with the estimate can lecture-system, would have conof the scholar's profession which then stituted a part of the filling-in of the prevailed in New England Emerson ideal memoir of Emerson, I may further could have had no quarrel : the ground say, returning to the matter for a of his lamentation was another side moment, that such à memoir would of the matter. It was not a question of also have had a chapter for some of estimate, but of accidental practice. those Concord-haunting figures which In 1838 there were still so many are not so much interesting in themthings of prime material necessity to selves as interesting because for a be done, that reading was driven to season Emerson thought them the wall; but the reader was still And the pleasure of that would be thought the cleverest, for he found partly that it would push us to inquire time as well as intelligence. Emer how interesting he did really think son's own situation sufficiently indi them. That is, it would bring up the cates it. In what other country, on question of his inner reserves and sleety winter nights, would provincial scepticisms, his secret ennuis and and 'bucolic populations have gone ironies, the way he sympathised for forth in hundreds for the cold comfort courtesy, and then, with his delicacy of a literary discourse? The distilla and generosity, in a world after all tion anywhere else would certainly given much to the literal, let his have appeared too thin, the appeal courtesy pass for adhesion--a questoo special. But for many years the tion particularly attractive to those American people of the middle regions, for whom he has, in general, a fascinaoutside of a few cities, had in the most tion. Many entertaining problems of rigorous seasons no other recreation. that sort present themselves for such A gentleman, grave or gay, in a bare readers : there is something indefinable room, with a manuscript, before a desk, for them in the mixture of which he offered the reward of toil, the refresh was made—his fidelity as an interment of pleasure, to the young, the preter of the so-called transcendental middle-aged and the old of both sexes. spirit and his freedom from all wish The bour was brightest, doubtless, for any personal share in the effect of when the gentleman was gay, like his ideas. He drops them, sheds Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes. But them, diffuses them, and we feel as Emerson's gravity never sapped his if there would be a grossness in holdcareer, any more than it chilled the ing him to anything so temporal as regard in which he was held among a responsibility. He had the advanthose who were particularly his own tage, for many years, of having the people. It was impossible to be more question of application assumed for honoured and cherished, far and near, hinn by Thoreau, who took upon
self to be, in the concrete, the sort of regarded any such label or banner person
that Emerson's “scholar” was as a mere tiresome flutter. He liked in the abstract, and who paid for it to taste, but not to drink-least of all by having a shorter life than that fine to become intoxicated. He liked to adumbration. The application, with explain the Transcendentalists, but Thoreau, was violent and limited (it did not care at all to be explained became a matter of prosaic detail, the by them : a doctrine "whereof you non-payment of taxes, the non-wearing know I am wholly guiltless,” he says of a necktie, the preparation of one's to his wife in 1842, “and which is food one's self, the practice of a rude spoken of as a known and fixed sincerity--all things not of the es element, like salt or meal. So that I sence), so that, though he wrote some have to begin with endless disclaimers beautiful pages, which read like a and explanations : 'I am not the man translation of Emerson into the
you take me for.'”
He was never the sounds of the field and forest, and man any one took him for, for the which no one who has ever loved simple reason that no one could posNature in New England, or indeed sibly take him for the elusive, irreanywhere, can fail to love, he suffers ducible, merely gustatory spirit for something of the amoindrissement of which he took himself. eccentricity. His master escapes that reduction altogether.
I call it an
“It is a sort of maxim with me never to
harp on the omnipotence of limitations. advantage to have had such a pupil
Least of all do we need any suggestion of as Thoreau ; because, for a mind so checks and measures ; as if New England much made up of reflection as Emer were anything else. Of so many fine son's, everything comes under that head
people it is true that being so much they which prolongs and reanimates the
ought to be a little more, and missing that are
naught. It is a sort of King René period ; process---produces the return, again there is no doing, but rare thrilling prophecy and yet again, on one's impressions. from bands of competing minstrels. Thoreau must have had this moder
That is his private expression about ating, and even chastening, effect. It
a large part of a ferment in regard to did not rest, moreover, with him alone :
which his public judgment was that, the advantage of which I speak was not confined to Thoreau's case.
“That indeed constitutes a new feature in 1837 Emerson (in his journal) pro
their portrait, that they are the most exacting nounced Mr. Bronson Alcott the most
and extortionate critics. ... These exact
ing children advertise us of our wants. There extraordinary man and the highest is no compliment, no smooth speech with genius of his time: the sequence of them ; they pay you only this one compliment which was that for more than forty
of insatiable expectation ; they aspire, they years after that he had the gentleman severely exact, and if they only stand fast in
this watch-tower, and stand fast unto the end, living but half a mile away. The oppor and without end, then they are terrible tunity for the return, as I have called friends, whereof poet and priest cannot but it, was not wanting.
stand in awe; and what if they eat clouds His detachment is shown in his
and drink wind, they have not been without
service to the race of man.” whole attitude toward the transcendental movement that remark That was saying the best for them, able outburst of Romanticism as he always said it for everything ; Puritan ground, as Mr. Cabot very but it was the sense of their being well names it. Nothing can be more “ bands of competing minstrels" and ingenious, more sympathetic and charm their camp being only a
measure and ing, than Emerson's account and de check,” in a society too sparse for a finition of the matter in his lecture synthesis, that kept him from wishing (of 1842) called The Transcendentalist; to don their uniform. This was after and yet nothing is more apparent from all but a misfitting imitation of his his letters and journals than that he natural wear, and what he would have
liked was to put that off-he did not the name of the Boston Hymn. They wish to button it tighter. He said are not the happiest he produced for the best for his friends of The an occasion-they do not compare Dial, of Fruitlands and Brook Farm, with the verses on the “embattled in saying that they were fastidious farmers," read at Concord in 1857, and critical ; but he was conscious in and there is a certain awkwardness the next breath that what there was in some of them. But I well rememaround them to be criticised
the immense effect with which his mainly a negative. Nothing is more beautiful voice pronounced the lines : perceptible to-day than that their criticism produced no fruit—that it
“Pay ransom to the owner
And fill the bag to the brim. was little else than a very decent and Who is the owner ? The slave is owner, innocent recreation-a kind of Puritan And ever was. Pay him!” carnival. The New England world
And Mr. Cabot chronicles the fact was for much the most part very busy,
that the gran' but The Dial and Fruitlands and Brook
rifiuto—the great Farm were the amusement of the
backsliding of Mr. Webster when he leisure-class. Extremes meet, and as
cast his vote in Congress for the in older societies that class is known
Fugitive Slave Law of 1850—was the
one thing that ever moved him to principally by its connection with
heated denunciation. He felt Webcastles and carriages, so at Concord it came, with Thoreau and Mr. W. H.
ster's apostasy as strongly as he had
admired his genius. “Who has not Channing, out of the cabin and the wood-lot.
helped to praise him? Simply he was Emerson was not moved to believe
the one American of our time whom in their fastidiousness as a productive
we could produce as a finished work
of nature.” There is a passage in his principle even when they directed it upon abuses which he abundantly journal (not a rough jotting, but,
like most of the entries in it, a recognised. Mr. Cabot shows that he was by no means one of the profes- admirably descriptive of the wonder
finished piece of writing), which is sional Abolitionists or philanthropists
ful orator, and is moreover one of the -never an enrolled “humanitarian."
very few portraits, or even personal
sketches, yielded by Mr. Cabot's selec“We talk frigidly of Reform until the walls mock us. It is that of which a man
tions. It shows that he could observe should never speak, but if he have cherished the human figure, and "render" it to it in his bosom he should steal to it in dark
good purpose. ness, as an Indian to his bride.
Does he not do more to abolish slavery who works
“ His splendid wrath, when his eyes become all day steadily in his own garden, than he fire, is good to see, so intellectual it is--the who goes to the abolition meeting and makes wrath of the fact and the cause he espouses, a speech ? He who does his own work frees a and not at all personal to himself. . slave.”
These village parties must be dish-water to
him, yet he shows himself just good-natured, I must add that even while I tran just nonchalant enough ; and he has his own scribe these words there comes to me
way, without offending any one or losing any
ground. .... His expensiveness seems neces. the recollection of the great meeting in
sary to him; were he too prudent a Yankee the Boston Music Hall, on the first it would be a sad deduction from his magnifiday of 1863, to celebrate the signing
I only wish he would not truckle [to by Mr. Lincoln of the proclamation
the slave-holders). I do not care how much
he spends.” freeing the Southern slaves-of the momentousness of the occasion, the I doubtless
to have said more vast excited multitude, the crowded than enough, yet I have passed by platform, and the tall, spare figure many of the passages I had marked of Emerson, in the midst, reading out for transcription from Mr. Cabot's the stanzas that were published under
volumes. There is one, in the first,
that makes us stare as we come upon
and a little-a very little we gather-it, to the effect that Emerson “could his companion, that Emerson was unsee nothing in Shelley, Aristophanes, able to read his novels-he thought Don Quixote, Miss Austen, Dickens." them “not worthy of him.” This is a Mr. Cabot adds that he rarely read a judgment odd almost to fascinationnovel, even the famous ones (he has we circle round it and turn it over a point of contact here, as well as, and over : it contains so elusive an strangely enough, on two or three ambiguity. How highly he must have other sides, with that distinguished esteemed the man of whose genius moralist M. Ernest Renan, who, like The House of The Seven Gables and Emerson, was originally a dissident The Scarlet Letter gave imperfectly priest, and cannot imagine why people the measure, and how strange that should write works of fiction); and he should not have been eager to read thought Dante “a man to put into a almost anything that such a gifted museum, but not into your house; being might have let fall! It was a another Zerah Colburn; a prodigy of rare accident that made them live imaginative function, executive rather almost side by side so long in the same than contemplative or wise." The small New England town, each a fruit confession of an insensibility ranging of a long Puritan stem, yet with such from Shelley to Dickens and from a difference of taste. Hawthorne's Dante to Miss Austen, and taking vision was all for the evil and sin of Don Quixote and Aristophanes on the the world : a side of life as to which way, is a large allowance to have to Emerson's eyes were thickly bandaged. make for a man of letters, and may There were points as to which the appear to confirm but slightly any latter's conception of right could be claim of intellectual hospitality and violated, but he had no great sense general curiosity put forth for him. of wrong--a strangely limited one, The truth was that, sparely constructed indeed, for a moralist-no sense of the as he was, and formed not wastefully, dark, the foul, the base. There were not with material left over, as it were, certain complications in life which he for a special function, there were cer never suspected. One asks one's self tain chords in Emerson that did not whether that is why he did not care vibrate at all. I well remember my for Dante and Shelley and Aristoimpression of this on walking with phanes and Dickens, their works conhim, in the autumn of 1872, through taining a considerable reflection of the galleries of the Louvre and, later human perversity. But that still that winter, through those of the leaves the indifference to Cervantes Vatican : his perception of the objects and Miss Austen unaccounted for. contained in these collections was of It has not, however, been the amthe most general order. I was struck bition of these remarks to account for with the anomaly of a man so refined everything, and I have arrived at the and intelligent being so little spoken end without even pointing to the to by works of art. It would be more grounds on which Emerson justifies exact to say that certain chords were the honours of biography, discussion wholly absent: the tune was played, and illustration. I have assumed his the tune of life and literature, alto importance and continuance, and shall gether on those that remained. They probably not be gainsaid by those who had every wish to be equal to their read him. Those who do not will hardly office, but one feels that the number rub him out. Such a book as Mr. was short-that some notes could not Cabot's subjects a reputation to a be given. Mr. Cabot makes use of a test-leads people to look it over and singular phrase when he says, in speak- hold it up to the light, to see whether ing of Hawthorne, for several years it is worth keeping in use our author's neighbour at Concord, putting away in a cabinet. Such a
No. 338,- VOL. LVII.
revision of Emerson has no relegating phrases : he had frequently an consequences : the result of it is once
quisite eloquence. more the impression that he serves and
“O my friends, there are resources in us will not wear out, and that indeed we
on which we have not yet drawn.
There are cannot afford to drop him. His in
men who rise refreshed on hearing a threat ; strument makes him precious. He men to whom a crisis which intimidates and did something better than any one
paralyses the majority-demanding not the else: he had a particular faculty,
faculties of prudence and thrift, but compre
hension, immovableness, the readiness of which has not been surpassed, for sacrifice, come graceful and beloved as a bride. speaking to the soul in a voice of
But these are heights that we can direction and authority. There have
scarce look up to and remember without con
trition and shame. Let us thank God that been many spiritual voices, appealing,
such things exist." consoling, reassuring, exhorting, or even denouncing and terrifying, but None the less we have the impresnone has had just that firmness and sion that that search for a fashion just that purity. It penetrates further, and manner on which he was always it seems to go back to the roots of our engaged never really came to a confeelings, to where conduct and man clusion: it draws itself out through hood begin ; and moreover, to us to-day, his later writings-it drew itself out there is something in it that says that through his later lectures, like a sort it is connected somehow with the virtue
of renunciation of success. It is not of the world, has wrought and achieved, on these, however, but on their lived in thousands of minds, produced predecessors, that his reputation will a mass of character and life. And rest. Of course the way he spoke there is this further sign of Emerson's was the way that was on the whole singular power, that he is a striking most convenient to him ; but he exception to the general rule that differs from most men of letters of writings live in the last resort by their the same degree of credit in failing to form; that they owe a large part of strike us as having achieved a style. their fortune to the art with which they
This achievement is, as I say, usually have been composed. It is hardly too the bribe or toll-money on the journey much, or too little, to say
of Emerson's to posterity; and if Emerson goes his writings in general that they were not way, as he clearly appears to be doing, composed at all. Many and many
on the strength of his message alone, things are beautifully said : he had the case will be rare, the exception felicities, inspirations, unforgettable striking and the honour great.