by John Burroughs (1877)


Wherein the race has so far lost and gained, in being transplanted from Europe to the New England soil and climate, is well illustrated by the writings of Emerson. There is greater refinement and sublimation of thought, greater clearness and sharpness of outline, greater audacity of statement, but, on the other hand, there is a loss of bulk, of unction, of adipose tissue, and shall we say of power?

Emerson is undoubtedly a master on the New England scale,—such a master as the land and race are capable of producing. He stands out clear and undeniable. The national type, as illustrated by that section of the country, is the purest and strongest in him of any yet. He can never suffer eclipse. Compared with the English or German master, he is undoubtedly deficient in viscera, in moral and intellectual stomach; but, on the other hand, he is of a fibre and quality hard to match in any age or land. From first to last he strikes one as something extremely pure and compact, like a nut or an egg. Great matters and tendencies lie folded in him, or rather are summarized in his pages. He writes short but pregnant chapters on great themes, as in his "English Traits," a book like rich preserves put up pound for pound, a pound of Emerson to every pound of John Bull. His chapter on Swedenborg in "Representative Men" is a good sample of his power to abbreviate and restate with added force. His mind acts like a sun-lens in gathering the cold pale beams of that luminary to a focus which warms and stimulates the reader in a surprising manner. The gist of the whole matter is here; and how much weariness and dullness and plodding is left out!

In fact, Emerson is an essence, a condensation; more so, perhaps, than any other man who has appeared in literature. Nowhere else is there such a preponderance of pure statement, of the very attar of thought, over the bulkier, circumstantial, qualifying, or secondary elements. He gives us net results. He is like those strong artificial fertilizers. A pinch of him is equivalent to a page or two of Johnson, and he is pitched many degrees higher as an essayist than even Bacon. He has had an immediate stimulating effect upon all the best minds of the country; how deep or lasting this influence will be remains to be seen.

This point and brevity has its convenience and value especially in certain fields of literature. I by no means would wish to water Emerson; yet it will not do to lose sight of the fact that mass and inertia are indispensable to the creator. Considering him as poet alone, I have no doubt of his irremediable deficiency here. You cannot have broad, massive effect, deep light and shade, or a torrent of power, with such extreme refinement and condensation. The superphosphates cannot take the place of the coarser, bulkier fertilizers. Especially in poetry do we require pure thought to be well diluted with the human, emotional qualities. In the writing most precious to the race, how little is definition and intellectual formula, and how much is impulse, emotion, will, character, blood, chyle! We must have liquids and gases and solvents. We perhaps get more of them in Carlyle. Emerson's page has more serene astral beauty than Carlyle's, but not that intense blast-furnace heat that melts down the most obdurate facts and characters into something plastic and poetical. Emerson's ideal is always the scholar, the man of books and ready wit; Carlyle's hero is a riding or striding ruler, or a master worker in some active field.

The antique mind no doubt affords the true type of health and wholeness in this respect. The Greek could see, and feel, and paint, and carve, and speak nothing but emotional man. In nature he saw nothing but personality,—nothing but human or superhuman qualities; to him the elements all took the human shape. Of that vague, spiritual, abstract something which we call Nature he had no conception. He had no sentiment, properly speaking, but impulse and will-power. And the master minds of the world, in proportion to their strength, their spinal strength, have approximated to this type. Dante, Angelo, Shakespeare, Byron, Goethe, saw mainly man, and him not abstractly but concretely. And this is the charm of Burns and the glory of Scott. Carlyle has written the best histories and biographies of modern times, because he sees man with such fierce and steadfast eyes. Emerson sees him also, but he is not interested in him as a man, but mainly as a spirit, as a demigod, or as a wit or a philosopher.

Emerson's quality has changed a good deal in his later writings. His corn is no longer in the milk; it has grown hard, and we that read have grown hard, too. He has now ceased to be an expansive, revolutionary force, but he has not ceased to be a writer of extraordinary gripe and unexpected resources of statement. His startling piece of advice, "Hitch your wagon to a star," is typical of the man, as combining the most unlike and widely separate qualities. Because not less marked than his idealism and mysticism is his shrewd common sense, his practical bent, his definiteness,—in fact, the sharp New England mould in which he is cast. He is the master Yankee, the centennial flower of that thrifty and peculiar stock. More especially in his later writings and speakings do we see the native New England traits,—the alertness, eagerness, inquisitiveness, thrift, dryness, archness, caution, the nervous energy as distinguished from the old English unction and vascular force. How he husbands himself,—what prudence, what economy, always spending up, as he says, and not down! How alert, how attentive; what an inquisitor; always ready with some test question, with some fact or idea to match or to verify, ever on the lookout for some choice bit of adventure or information, or some anecdote that has pith and point! No tyro basks and takes his ease in his presence, but is instantly put on trial and must answer or be disgraced. He strikes at an idea like a falcon at a bird. His great fear seems to be lest there be some fact or point worth knowing that will escape him. He is a close-browed miser of the scholar's gains. He turns all values into intellectual coin. Every book or person or experience is an investment that will or will not warrant a good return in ideas. He goes to the Radical Club, or to the literary gathering, and listens with the closest attention to every word that is said, in hope that something will be said, some word dropped, that has the ring of the true metal. Apparently he does not permit himself a moment's indifference or inattention. His own pride is always to have the ready change, to speak the exact and proper word, to give to every occasion the dignity of wise speech. You are bartered with for your best. There is no profit in life but in the interchange of ideas, and the chief success is to have a head well filled with them. Hard cash at that; no paper promises satisfy him; he loves the clink and glint of the real coin.

His earlier writings were more flowing and suggestive, and had reference to larger problems; but now everything has got weighed and stamped and converted into the medium of wise and scholarly conversation. It is of great value; these later essays are so many bags of genuine coin, which it has taken a lifetime to hoard; not all gold, but all good, and the fruit of wise industry and economy.

I know of no other writing that yields the reader so many strongly stamped medallion-like sayings and distinctions. There is a perpetual refining and recoining of the current wisdom of life and conversation. It is the old gold or silver or copper, but how bright and new it looks in his pages! Emerson loves facts, things, objects, as the workman his tools. He makes everything serve. The stress of expression is so great that he bends the most obdurate element to his purpose; as the bird, under her keen necessity, weaves the most contrary and diverse materials into her nest. He seems to like best material that is a little refractory; it makes his page more piquant and stimulating. Within certain limits he loves roughness, but not at the expense of harmony. He has wonderful hardiness and push. Where else in literature is there a mind, moving in so rare a medium, that gives one such a sense of tangible resistance and force? It is a principle in mechanics that velocity is twice as great as mass: double your speed and you double your heat, though you halve your weight. In like manner this body we are considering is not the largest, but its speed is great, and the intensity of its impact with objects and experience is almost without parallel. Everything about a man like Emerson is important. I find his phrenology and physiognomy more than ordinarily typical and suggestive. Look at his picture there,—large, strong features on a small face and head,—no blank spaces; all given up to expression; a high predaceous nose, a sinewy brow, a massive, benevolent chin. In most men there is more face than feature, but here is a vast deal more feature than face, and a corresponding alertness and emphasis of character. Indeed, the man is made after this fashion. He is all type; his expression is transcendent. His mind has the hand's pronounced anatomy,—its cords and sinews and multiform articulations and processes, its opposing and coordinating power. If his brain is small, its texture is fine and its convolutions are deep. There have been broader and more catholic natures, but few so towering and audacious in expression and so rich in characteristic traits. Every scrap and shred of him is important and related. Like the strongly aromatic herbs and simples,—sage, mint, wintergreen, sassafras,—the least part carries the flavor of the whole. Is there one indifferent or equivocal or unsympathizing drop of blood in him? Where he is at all, he is entirely,—nothing extemporaneous; his most casual word seems to have lain in pickle a long time, and is saturated through and through with the Emersonian brine. Indeed, so pungent and penetrating is his quality that even his quotations seem more than half his own.

He is a man who occupies every inch of his rightful territory; he is there in proper person to the farthest bound. Not every man is himself and his best self at all times and to his finger points. Many great characters, perhaps the greatest, have more or less neutral or waste ground. You must penetrate a distance before you reach the real quick. Or there is a good wide margin of the commonplace which is sure to put them on good terms with the mass of their fellow-citizens. And one would think Emerson could afford to relax a little; that he had earned the right to a dull page or two now and then. The second best or third best word sometimes would make us appreciate his first best all the more. Even his god-father Plato nods occasionally, but Emerson's good breeding will not for a moment permit such a slight to the reader.

Emerson's peculiar quality is very subtle, but very sharp and firm and unmistakable. It is not analogous to the commoner, slower-going elements, as heat, air, fire, water, but is nearer akin to that elusive but potent something we call electricity. It is abrupt, freaky, unexpected, and always communicates a little wholesome shock. It darts this way and that, and connects the far and the near in every line. There is always a leaping thread of light, and there is always a kind of answering peal or percussion. With what quickness and suddenness extremes are brought together! The reader is never prepared for what is to come next; the spark will most likely leap from some source or fact least thought of. His page seldom glows and burns, but there is a never-ceasing crackling and discharge of moral and intellectual force into the mind.

His chief weapon, and one that he never lays down, is identical with that of the great wits, namely, surprise. The point of his remark or idea is always sprung upon the reader, never quietly laid before him. He has a mortal dread of tameness and flatness, and would make the very water we drink bite the tongue.

He has been from the first a speaker and lecturer, and his style has been largely modeled according to the demand of those sharp, heady New England audiences for ceaseless intellectual friction and chafing. Hence every sentence is braided hard, and more or less knotted, and, though of silk, makes the mind tingle. He startles by overstatement, by understatement, by paradox, by antithesis, and by synthesis. Into every sentence enters the unexpected,—the congruous leaping from the incongruous, the high coming down, the low springing up, likeness or relation suddenly coming into view where before was only difference or antagonism. How he delights to bring the reader up with a short turn, to impale him on a knotty point, to explode one of his verbal bombshells under his very nose! Yet there is no trickery or rhetorical legerdemain. His heroic fibre always saves him.

The language in which Taine describes Bacon applies with even more force to Emerson:—

"Bacon," he says, "is a producer of conceptions and of sentences. The matter being explored, he says to us: 'Such it is; touch it not on that side; it must be approached from the other.' Nothing more; no proof, no effort to convince; he affirms, and nothing more; he has thought in the manner of artists and poets, and he speaks after the manner of prophets and seers. 'Cogita et visa,'—this title of one of his books might be the title of all. His process is that of the creators; it is intuition, not reasoning.... There is nothing more hazardous, more like fantasy, than this mode of thought when it is not checked by natural and good strong common sense. This common sense, which is a kind of natural divination, the stable equilibrium of an intellect always gravitating to the true, like the needle to the north pole, Bacon possesses in the highest degree. He has a preĆ«minently practical, even an utilitarian mind."

It is significant, and is indeed the hidden seed or root out of which comes the explanation of much, if not the main part, of his life and writings, that Emerson comes of a long line of clergymen; that the blood in his veins has been teaching, and preaching, and thinking, and growing austere, these many generations. One wonders that it is still so bounding and strong, so red with iron and quick with oxygen. But in him seems to be illustrated one of those rare cases in the genealogy of families where the best is carried forward each time, and steadily recruited and intensified. It does not seem possible for any man to become just what Emerson is from the stump, though perhaps great men have been the fruit of one generation; but there is a quality in him, an aroma of fine manners, a propriety, a chivalry in the blood, that dates back, and has been refined and transmitted many times. Power is born with a man, and is always first hand, but culture, genius, noble instincts, gentle manners, or the easy capacity for these things, may be, and to a greater or a lesser extent are, the contribution of the past. Emerson's culture is radical and ante-natal, and never fails him. The virtues of all those New England ministers and all those tomes of sermons are in this casket. One fears sometimes that he has been too much clarified, or that there is not enough savage grace or original viciousness and grit in him to save him. How he hates the roysterers, and all the rank, turbulent, human passions, and is chilled by the thought that perhaps after all Shakespeare led a vulgar life!

When Tyndall was here, he showed us how the dark, coarse, invisible heat rays could be strained out of the spectrum; or, in other words, that every solar beam was weighted with a vast, nether, invisible side, which made it a lever of tremendous power in organic nature. After some such analogy, one sees how the highest order of power in the intellectual world draws upon and is nourished by those rude, primitive, barbaric human qualities that our culture and pietism tend to cut off and strain out. Our culture has its eye on the other end of the spectrum, where the fine violet and indigo rays are; but all the lifting, rounding, fructifying powers of the system are in the coarse, dark rays—the black devil—at the base. The angel of light is yoked with the demon of darkness, and the pair create and sustain the world.

In rare souls like Emerson, the fruit of extreme culture, it is inevitable that at least some of the heat rays should be lost, and we miss them especially when we contrast him with the elder masters. The elder masters did not seem to get rid of the coarse or vulgar in human life, but royally accepted it, and struck their roots into it, and drew from it sustenance and power: but there is an ever-present suspicion that Emerson prefers the saints to the sinners; prefers the prophets and seers to Homer, Shakespeare, and Dante. Indeed, it is to be distinctly stated and emphasized, that Emerson is essentially a priest, and that the key to all he has said and written is to be found in the fact that his point of view is not that of the acceptor, the creator,—Shakespeare's point of view,—but that of the refiner and selector, the priest's point of view. He described his own state rather than that of mankind when he said, "The human mind stands ever in perplexity, demanding intellect, demanding sanctity, impatient equally of each without the other."

Much surprise has been expressed in literary circles in this country that Emerson has not followed up his first off-hand indorsement of Walt Whitman with fuller and more deliberate approval of that poet, but has rather taken the opposite tack. But the wonder is that he should have been carried off his feet at all in the manner he was; and it must have been no ordinary breeze that did it. Emerson shares with his contemporaries the vast preponderance of the critical and discerning intellect over the fervid, manly qualities and faith. His power of statement is enormous; his scope of being is not enormous. The prayer he uttered many years ago for a poet of the modern, one who could see in the gigantic materialism of the times the carnival of the same deities we so much admire in Greece and Rome, seems to many to have even been explicitly answered in Whitman; but Emerson is balked by the cloud of materials, the din and dust of action, and the moving armies, in which the god comes enveloped.

But Emerson has his difficulties with all the poets. Homer is too literal, Milton too literary, and there is too much of the whooping savage in Whitman. He seems to think the real poet is yet to appear; a poet on new terms, the reconciler, the poet-priest,—one who shall unite the whiteness and purity of the saint with the power and unction of the sinner; one who shall bridge the chasm between Shakespeare and St. John. For when our Emerson gets on his highest horse, which he does only on two or three occasions, he finds Shakespeare only a half man, and that it would take Plato and Manu and Moses and Jesus to complete him. Shakespeare, he says, rested with the symbol, with the festal beauty of the world, and did not take the final step, and explore the essence of things, and ask, "Whence? What? and Whither?" He was not wise for himself; he did not lead a beautiful, saintly life, but ate, and drank, and reveled, and affiliated with all manner of persons, and quaffed the cup of life with gusto and relish. The elect, spotless souls will always look upon the heat and unconscious optimism of the great poet with deep regret. But if man would not become emasculated, if human life is to continue, we must cherish the coarse as well as the fine, the root as well as the top and flower. The poet-priest in the Emersonian sense has never yet appeared, and what reason have we to expect him? The poet means life, the whole of life,—all your ethics and philosophies, and essences and reason of things, in vital play and fusion, clothed with form and color, and throbbing with passion: the priest means a part, a thought, a precept; he means suppression, expurgation, death. To have gone farther than Shakespeare would have been to cease to be a poet, and to become a mystic or a seer.

Yet it would be absurd to say, as a leading British literary journal recently did, that Emerson is not a poet. He is one kind of a poet. He has written plenty of poems that are as melodious as the hum of a wild bee in the air,—chords of wild aeolian music.

Undoubtedly his is, on the whole, a bloodless kind of poetry. It suggests the pale gray matter of the cerebrum rather than flesh and blood. Mr. William Rossetti has made a suggestive remark about him. He is not so essentially a poet, says this critic, as he is a Druid that wanders among the bards, and strikes the harp with even more than bardic stress.

Not in the poetry of any of his contemporaries is there such a burden of the mystery of things, nor are there such round wind-harp tones, nor lines so tense and resonant, and blown upon by a breeze from the highest heaven of thought. In certain respects he has gone beyond any other. He has gone beyond the symbol to the thing signified. He has emptied poetic forms of their meaning and made poetry of that. He would fain cut the world up into stars to shine in the intellectual firmament. He is more and he is less than the best.

He stands among other poets like a pine-tree amid a forest of oak and maple. He seems to belong to another race, and to other climes and conditions. He is great in one direction, up; no dancing leaves, but rapt needles; never abandonment, never a tossing and careering, never an avalanche of emotion; the same in sun and snow, scattering his cones, and with night and obscurity amid his branches. He is moral first and last, and it is through his impassioned and poetic treatment of the moral law that he gains such an ascendency over his reader. He says, as for other things he makes poetry of them, but the moral law makes poetry of him. He sees in the world only the ethical, but he sees it through the aesthetic faculty. Hence his page has the double charm of the beautiful and the good.


One of the penalties Emerson pays for his sharp decision, his mental pertinence and resistance, is the curtailment of his field of vision and enjoyment. He is one of those men whom the gods drive with blinders on, so that they see fiercely in only a few directions. Supreme lover as he is of poetry,—Herrick's poetry,—yet from the whole domain of what may be called emotional poetry, the poetry of fluid humanity, tallied by music, he seems to be shut out. This may be seen by his reference to Shelley in his last book, "Letters and Social Aims," and by his preference of the metaphysical poet throughout his writings. Wordsworth's famous "Ode" is, he says, the high-water mark of English literature. What he seems to value most in Shakespeare is the marvelous wit, the pregnant sayings. He finds no poet in France, and in his "English Traits" credits Tennyson with little but melody and color. (In our last readings, do we not surely come to feel the manly and robust fibre beneath Tennyson's silken vestments?) He demands of poetry that it be a kind of spiritual manna, and is at last forced to confess that there are no poets, and that when such angels do appear, Homer and Milton will be tin pans.

One feels that this will not do, and that health, and wholeness, and the well-being of man are more in the keeping of Shakespeare than in the hands of Zoroaster or any of the saints. I doubt if that rarefied air will make good red blood and plenty of it.

But Emerson makes his point plain, and is not indebted to any of his teachers for it. It is the burden of all he writes upon the subject. The long discourse that opens his last volume [Letters and Social Aims] has numerous subheadings, as "Poetry," "Imagination," "Creation," "Morals," and "Transcendency;" but it's all a plea for transcendency. I am reminded of the story of an old Indian chief who was invited to some great dinner where the first course was "succotash." When the second course was ready the old Indian said he would have a little more succotash, and when the third was ready he called for more succotash and so with the fourth and fifth, and on to the end. In like manner Emerson will have nothing but the "spiritual law" in poetry, and he has an enormous appetite for that. Let him have it, but why should he be so sure that mankind all want succotash? Mankind finally comes to care little for what any poet has to say, but only for what he has to sing. We want the pearl of thought dissolved in the wine of life. How much better are sound bones and a good digestion in poetry than all the philosophy and transcendentalism in the world!

What one comes at last to want is power, mastery; and, whether it be mastery over the subtleties of the intellect, as in Emerson himself, or over the passions and the springs of action, as in Shakespeare, or over our terrors and the awful hobgoblins of hell and Satan, as in Dante, or over vast masses and spaces of nature and the abysms of aboriginal man, as in Walt Whitman, what matters it? Are we not refreshed by all? There is one mastery in Burns, another in Byron, another in Rabelais, and in Victor Hugo, and in Tennyson; and though the critic has his preferences, though he affect one more than another, yet who shall say this one is a poet and that one is not? "There may be any number of supremes," says the master, and "one by no means contravenes another." Every gas is a vacuum to every other gas, says Emerson, quoting the scientist; and every great poet complements and leaves the world free to every other great poet.

Emerson's limitation or fixity is seen also in the fact that he has taken no new step in his own direction, if indeed another step could be taken in that direction and not step off. He is a prisoner on his peak. He cannot get away from the old themes. His later essays are upon essentially the same subjects as his first. He began by writing on nature, greatness, manners, art, poetry, and he is still writing on them. He is a husbandman who practices no rotation of crops, but submits to the exhaustive process of taking about the same things from his soil year after year. Some readers think they detect a falling off. It is evident there is not the same spontaneity, and that the soil has to be more and more stirred and encouraged, which is not at all to be wondered at.

But if Emerson has not advanced, he has not receded, at least in conviction and will, which is always the great danger with our bold prophets. The world in which he lives, the themes upon which he writes, never become hackneyed to him. They are always fresh and new. He has hardened, but time has not abated one jot or tittle his courage and hope,—no cynicism and no relaxing of his hold, no decay of his faith, while the nobleness of his tone, the chivalry of his utterance, is even more marked than at first. Better a hundred-fold than his praise of fine manners is the delicacy and courtesy and the grace of generous breeding displayed on every page. Why does one grow impatient and vicious when Emerson writes of fine manners and the punctilios of conventional life, and feel like kicking into the street every divinity enshrined in the drawing-room? It is a kind of insult to a man to speak the word in his presence. Purify the parlors indeed by keeping out the Choctaws, the laughers! Let us go and hold high carnival for a week, and split the ears of the groundlings with our "contemptible squeals of joy." And when he makes a dead set at praising eloquence, I find myself instantly on the side of the old clergyman he tells of who prayed that he might never be eloquent; or when he makes the test of a man an intellectual one, as his skill at repartee, and praises the literary crack shot, and defines manliness to be readiness, as he does in this last volume and in the preceding one, I am filled with a perverse envy of all the confused and stammering heroes of history. Is Washington faltering out a few broken and ungrammatical sentences, in reply to the vote of thanks of the Virginia legislature, less manly than the glib tongue in the court-room or in the club that can hit the mark every time? The test of a wit or of a scholar is one thing; the test of a man, I take it, is quite another. In this and some other respects Emerson is well antidoted by Carlyle, who lays the stress on the opposite qualities, and charges his hero to hold his tongue. But one cheerfully forgives Emerson the way he puts his thumb-nail on the bores. He speaks feelingly, and no doubt from as deep an experience as any man in America.

I really hold Emerson in such high esteem that I think I can safely indulge myself in a little more fault-finding with him.

I think it must be admitted that he is deficient in sympathy. This accounts in a measure for his coolness, his self-possession, and that kind of uncompromising rectitude or inflexibleness that marks his career, and that he so lauds in his essays. No man is so little liable to be warped or compromised in any way as the unsympathetic man. Emerson's ideal is the man who stands firm, who is unmoved, who never laughs, or apologizes, or deprecates, or makes concessions, or assents through good-nature, or goes abroad; who is not afraid of giving offense; "who answers you without supplication in his eye,"—in fact, who stands like a granite pillar amid the slough of life. You may wrestle with this man, he says, or swim with him, or lodge in the same chamber with him, or eat at the same table, and yet he is a thousand miles off, and can at any moment finish with you. He is a sheer precipice, is this man, and not to be trifled with. You shrinking, quivering, acquiescing natures, avaunt! You sensitive plants, you hesitating, indefinite creatures, you uncertain around the edges, you non-resisting, and you heroes, whose courage is quick, but whose wit is tardy, make way, and let the human crustacean pass. Emerson is moulded upon this pattern. It is no mush and milk that you get at this table. "A great man is coming to dine with me; I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me." On the lecture stand he might be of wood, so far as he is responsive to the moods and feelings of his auditors. They must come to him; he will not go to them: but they do not always come. Latterly the people have felt insulted, the lecturer showed them so little respect. Then, before a promiscuous gathering, and in stirring and eventful times like ours, what anachronisms most of his lectures are, even if we take the high ground that they are pearls before swine! The swine may safely demand some apology of him who offers them pearls instead of corn.

Emerson's fibre is too fine for large public uses. He is what he is, and is to be accepted as such, only let us know what he is. He does not speak to universal conditions, or to human nature in its broadest, deepest, strongest phases. His thought is far above the great sea level of humanity, where stand most of the world's masters. He is like one of those marvelously clear mountain lakes whose water-line runs above all the salt seas of the globe. He is very precious, taken at his real worth. Why find fault with the isolation and the remoteness in view of the sky-like purity and depth?

Still I must go on sounding and exploring him, reporting where I touch bottom and where I do not. He reaps great advantage from his want of sympathy. The world makes no inroads upon him through this channel. He is not distracted by the throng or maybe the mob of emotions that find entrance here. He shines like a star undimmed by current events. He speaks as from out the interstellar spaces. 'T is vulgar sympathy makes mortals of us all, and I think Emerson's poetry finally lacks just that human coloring and tone, that flesh tint of the heart, which vulgar sympathy with human life as such imparts.

But after we have made all possible deductions from Emerson, there remains the fact that he is a living force, and, tried by home standards, a master. Wherein does the secret of his power lie? He is the prophet and philosopher of young men. The old man and the man of the world make little of him, but of the youth who is ripe for him he takes almost an unfair advantage. One secret of his charm I take to be the instant success with which he transfers our interest in the romantic, the chivalrous, the heroic, to the sphere of morals and the intellect. We are let into another realm unlooked for, where daring and imagination also lead. The secret and suppressed heart finds a champion. To the young man fed upon the penny precepts and staple Johnsonianism of English literature, and upon what is generally doled out in the schools and colleges, it is a surprise; it is a revelation. A new world opens before him. The nebulae of his spirit are resolved or shown to be irresolvable. The fixed stars of his inner firmament are brought immeasurably near. He drops all other books. He will gaze and wonder. From Locke or Johnson or Wayland to Emerson is like a change from the school history to the Arabian Nights. There may be extravagances and some jugglery, but for all that the lesson is a genuine one, and to us of this generation immense.

Emerson is the knight-errant of the moral sentiment. He leads, in our time and country, one illustrious division, at least, in the holy crusade of the affections and the intuitions against the usurpations of tradition and theological dogma. He marks the flower, the culmination, under American conditions and in the finer air of the New World, of the reaction begun by the German philosophers, and passed along by later French and English thinkers, of man against circumstance, of spirit against form, of the present against the past. What splendid affirmation, what inspiring audacity, what glorious egoism, what generous brag, what sacred impiety! There is an eclat about his words, and a brave challenging of immense odds, that is like an army with banners. It stirs the blood like a bugle-call: beauty, bravery, and a sacred cause,—the three things that win with us always. The first essay is a forlorn hope. See what the chances are: "The world exists for the education of each man.... He should see that he can live all history in his own person. He must sit solidly at home, and not suffer himself to be bullied by kings or empires, but know that he is greater than all the geography and all the government of the world; he must transfer the point of view from which history is commonly read from Rome and Athens and London to himself, and not deny his conviction that he is the court, and, if England or Egypt have anything to say to him, he will try the case; if not, let them forever be silent." In every essay that follows, there are the same great odds and the same electric call to the youth to face them. It is, indeed, as much a world of fable and romance that Emerson introduces us to as we get in Homer or Herodotus. It is true, all true,—true as Arthur and his knights, or Pilgrim's Progress, and I pity the man who has not tasted its intoxication, or who can see nothing in it.

The intuitions are the bright band, without armor or shield, that slay the mailed and bucklered giants of the understanding. Government, institutions, religions, fall before the glance of the hero's eye. Art and literature, Shakespeare, Angelo, Aeschylus, are humble suppliants before you, the king. The commonest fact is idealized, and the whole relation of man to the universe is thrown into a kind of gigantic perspective. It is not much to say there is exaggeration; the very start makes Mohammed's attitude toward the mountain tame. The mountain shall come to Mohammed, and, in the eyes of all born readers of Emerson, the mountain does come, and comes with alacrity.

Some shrewd judges apprehend that Emerson is not going to last; basing their opinion upon the fact, already alluded to, that we outgrow him, or pass through him as through an experience that we cannot repeat. He is but a bridge to other things; he gets you over. He is an exceptional fact in literature, say they, and does not represent lasting or universal conditions. He is too fine for the rough wear and tear of ages. True, we do not outgrow Dante, or Cervantes, or Bacon; and I doubt if the Anglo-Saxon stock at least ever outgrows that king of romancers, Walter Scott. These men and their like appeal to a larger audience, and in some respects a more adult one, at least one more likely to be found in every age and people. Their achievement was more from the common level of human nature than are Emerson's astonishing paradoxes. Yet I believe his work has the seal of immortality upon it as much as that of any of them. No doubt he has a meaning to us now and in this country that will be lost to succeeding time. His religious significance will not be so important to the next generation. He is being or has been so completely absorbed by his times, that readers and hearers hereafter will get him from a thousand sources, or his contribution will become the common property of the race. All the masters probably had some peculiar import or tie to their contemporaries that we at a distance miss. It is thought by scholars that we have lost the key, or one key, to Dante, and Chaucer, and Shakespeare,—the key or the insight that people living under the same roof get of each other.

But, aside from and over and above everything else, Emerson appeals to youth and to genius. If you have these, you will understand him and delight in him; if not, or neither of them, you will make little of him. And I do not see why this should not be just as true any time hence as at present.

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