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not dealing at all in such a philosophy with matters of fact, or with such verifiable truths as exclude their opposites, but only with the art of conception and the various forms in which reflection, like a poet, can compose and recompose human experience.
If we ask ourselves what was Emerson's relation to the scientific and religious movements of his time, and what place he may claim in the history of opinion, we must answer that he belonged very little to the past, very little to the present, and almost wholly to that abstract sphere into which mystical and philosophic aspiration has carried a few men in all ages. The religious tradition in which he was reared was that of Puritanism, but of a Puritanism which, retaining its moral intensity and metaphysical abstractness, had minimized its doctrinal expression and become Unitarian. Emerson was indeed the Psyche of Puritanisın," the latest born and fairest vision far" of all that "faded hierarchy.” A Puritan whose religion was all poetry, a poet whose only pleasure was thought, he showed in his life and personality the meagreness, the constraint, the conscious aloofness and consecration which belonged to his clerical ancestors, while his personal spirit ranged abroad over the fields of history and nature, gathering what ideas it might, and singing its little snatches of inspired song.
The traditional element was thus rather an external and unessential contribution to Emerson's mind; he had the professional tinge, the decorum, and the distinction of an old-fashioned divine; he had also the habit of writing sermons, and he had the national pride and hope of a religious people that felt itself providentially chosen to establish a free and godly commonwealth in a new world. For the rest he separated himself from the ancient creed of the community with a sense rather of relief than of regret. A literal belief in Christian doctrines repelled him as unspiritual, as manifesting no understanding of the meaning which, as allegories, those doctrines might have to a philosophic and poetical spirit. Although as a clergyman he was at first in the habit of referring to the Bible and its lessons as to a supreme authority, he had no instinctive sympathy with the inspiration of either the Old or the New Testament; in Hafiz or Plutarch, in Plato or Shakspere, he found more congenial stuff. To reject tradition and think as one might have thought if no man had ever existed before was indeed
the aspiration of the Transcendentalists, and although Emerson hardly regarded himself as a member of that school, he largely shared its tendency and passed for its spokesman. Both by temperament and conviction he was ready to open his mind to all philosophic influences, from whatever quarter they might blow; the lessons of science and the divinations of poetry could work themselves out in him into a free and personal religion.
The most important part of Emerson's Puritan heritage was the habit of worship which was innate in him, the ingrained tendency to revere the Power that works in the world, whatever might appear to be the character of its operation. This pious attitude was originally justified by the belief in a personal God and in a providential government of human affairs, but survives as a religious instinct after those positive beliefs had faded away into a recognition of "spiritual laws." The spirit of conformity, the unction, and the loyalty even unto death inspired by the religion of Jehovah, were dispositions acquired by too long a discipline, and rooted in too many forms of speech, of thought, and of worship for a man like Emerson, who had felt their full force, ever to be able to lose them. The evolutions of his abstract opinions left that habit undisturbed. Unless we keep this circumstance in mind, we shall not understand the kind of elation and sacred joy, so characteristic of his eloquence, with which he propounds laws of nature, and aspects of experience which, viewed in themselves, often afford but an equivocal support to moral enthusiasm. An optimism so persistent and unclouded as his will seem at variance with the description he himself gives of human life, a description colored by a poetic idealism, but hardly by an optimistic bias. We must remember, therefore, that Calvinism had known how to combine an awestruck devotion to the supreme being with no very roseate picture of the destinies of mankind, and for more than two hundred years had been breeding in the stock from which Emerson came a willingness to be“ damned for the glory of God.” What wonder, then, that when for the former inexorable dispensation of Providence, Emerson substituted his general spiritual and natural laws he should not have felt the spirit of worship fail within him? On the contrary, his thought moved in the presence of moral harmonies which seemed to him truer, more beauti
ful, and more beneficent than those of the old theology; and although an independent philosopher might not have seen in those harmonies an object of worship or a sufficient basis for optimism, he who was not primarily a philosopher but a Puritan mystic with a poetic fancy and a gift for observation and epigram, saw in them only a more intelligible form of the divinity he had always recognized and adored. His was not a philosophy passing into religion, but a religion expressing itself as a philosophy, and veiled as it descended the heavens in various tints of poetry and
While Emerson thus preferred to withdraw, without rancor and without contempt, from the ancient fellowship of the church, he assumed an attitude hardly less cool and deprecatory towards the enthusiasms of the new era. The national idea of democracy and freedom had his complete sympathy; he allowed himself to be drawn into the movement against slavery; he took a curious and smiling interest in the discoveries of natural science, and in the material progress of the age. But he could go no farther. His contemplative nature, his religious training, his dispersed reading, made him stand aside from the life of the world, even while he studied it with benevolent attention. His heart was fixed on eternal things, and he was in no sense a prophet for his age and country. He belongs by nature to that mystical company of devout souls that recognize no particular home, and are dispersed throughout history, although not without intercommunication. He felt his affinity with the Hindoos and the Persians, with the Platonists and the Stoics. Like them he remains “ a friend and aider of those who would live in the spirit.” If not a star of the first magnitude, he is certainly a fixed star in the firmament of philosophy. Alone as yet among Americans, he may be said to have won a place there, if not by the originality of his thought, at least by the originality and beauty of the expression he gave to thoughts that are old and imperishable.
I HAVE now spoken of the education of the scholar by nature, by books, and by action. It remains to say somewhat of his duties.
They are such as become Man Thinking. They may all be comprised in self-trust. The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation. Flamsteed and Herschel, in their glazed observatories, may catalogue the stars with the praise of all men, and, the results being splendid and useful, honor is sure. But he, in his private observatory, cataloguing obscure and nebulous stars of the human mind, which as yet no man has thought of as such, — watching days and months, sometimes, for a few facts; correcting still his old records ; - must relinquish display and immediate fame. In the long period of his preparation he must betray often an ignorance and shiftlessness in popular arts, incurring the disdain of the able who shoulder him aside. Long he must stammer in his speech ; often forego the living for the dead. Worse yet, he must accept, — how often ! poverty and solitude. For the ease and pleasure of treading the old road, accepting the fashions, the education, the religion of society, he takes the cross of making his own, and, of course, the self-accusation, the faint heart, the frequent uncertainty and loss of time, which are the nettles and tangling vines in the way of the self-relying and self-directed; and the state of virtual hostility in which he seems to stand to society, and especially to educated society. For all this loss and scorn, what offset? He is to find consolation in exercising the highest functions of human nature. He is one, who raises himself from private considerations and breathes and lives on public and illustrious thoughts. He is the world's eye. He is the world's heart. He is to resist the vulgar prosperity that retrogrades ever to barbarism, by preserving and communicating heroic sentiments, noble biographies, melodious verse, and the conclusions of history. Whatsoever oracles the human heart in all emergencies, in all solemn hours, has uttered as its commentary on the world of actions, — these he shall receive and impart. And whatsoever new verdict Reason from her inviola
ble seat pronounces on the passing men and events of to-day, – this he shall hear and promulgate.
These being his functions, it becomes him to feel all confidence in himself, and to defer never to the popular cry. He and he only knows the world. The world of any moment is the merest appear
Some great decorum, some fetish of a government, some ephemeral trade, or war, or man, is cried up by half mankind and cried down by the other half, as if all depended on this particular up or down. The odds are that the whole question is not worth the poorest thought which the scholar has lost in listening to the controversy. Let him not quit his belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the ancient and honorable of the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom. In silence, in steadiness, in severe abstraction, let him hold by himself; add observation to observation, patient of neglect, patient of reproach, and bide his own time,
happy enough, if he can satisfy himself alone, that this day he has seen something truly. Success treads on every right step. For the instinct is sure, that prompts him to tell his brother what he thinks. He then learns, that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the secrets of all minds. He learns that he who has mastered any law in his private thoughts, is master to that extent of all men whose language he speaks, and of all into whose language his own can be translated. The poet, in utter solitude remembering his spontaneous thoughts and recording them, is found to have recorded that which men in “ cities vast” find true for them also. The orator distrusts at first the fitness of his frank confessions, his want of knowledge of the persons he addresses, until he finds that he is the complement of his hearers; - that they drink his words because he fulfils for them their own nature; the deeper he dives into his privatest, secretest presentiment, to his wonder he finds, this is the most acceptable, most public, and universally true. The people delight in it; the better part of every man feels, This is my music; this is myself.
In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended. Free should the scholar be, — free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom,“ without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution.” Brave; for fear is a thing which a scholar by his very function puts behind him. Fear always springs from