THERE2 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 the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preëxist 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.3 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. Each new fact 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 mans 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.4 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 learn nothing rightly. What befell Asdrubal or Cæsar Borgia is as much an illustration of the minds powers and depravations as what has befallen us. Each new law and political movement has a meaning for you. Stand before each of its tablets and say, Under this mask did my Proteus nature hide itself. This remedies the defect of our too great nearness to ourselves. This throws our actions into perspective,and as crabs, goats, scorpions, the balance and the waterpot lose 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 the 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 more or less distinctly 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 belong 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 better men; but rather is it true that in their grandest strokes 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.5 We sympathize 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.
We have the same interest in condition and character. We honor 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 reader his own idea, describes his unattained but attainable self. All literature writes the character of the wise man. Books, monuments, pictures, conversation, are portraits in which he finds the lineaments he is forming. The silent and the eloquent praise him and accost him, and he is stimulated wherever he moves, as by personal allusions. A true aspirant therefore never needs look for allusions personal and 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 and circumstance,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.6
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.7
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. Every thing tends in a wonderful manner to abbreviate itself and yield its own virtue to him. 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. He must attain and maintain that lofty sight where facts yield their secret sense, and poetry and annals are alike. The instinct of the mind, the purpose of nature, betrays itself in the use we make of the signal narrations of history. Time dissipates to shining ether the solid angularity of facts. No anchor, no cable, no fences avail to keep a fact a fact. Babylon, Troy, Tyre, Palestine, and even early Rome are passing already into fiction. The Garden of Eden, the sun standing still in Gibeon, is poetry thenceforward to all nations. Who cares what the fact was, when we have made a constellation of it to hang in heaven an immortal sign? London and Paris and New York must go the same way. What is history, said Napoleon, but a fable agreed upon? This life of ours is stuck round with Egypt, Greece, Gaul, England, War, Colonization, Church, Court and Commerce, as with so many flowers and wild ornaments grave and gay. I will not make more account of them. I believe in Eternity.8 I can find Greece, Asia, Italy, Spain and the Islands,the genius and creative principle of each and of all eras, in my own mind.
We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in our private experience and verifying them here. All history becomes subjective; in other words there is properly no history, only biography. Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself,must go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it does not live, it will not know. What the former age has epitomized into a formula or rule for manipular convenience, it will lose all the good of verifying for itself, by means of the wall of that rule. Somewhere, sometime, it will demand and find compensation for that loss, by doing the work itself. Ferguson discovered many things in astronomy which had long been known. The better for him.
History must be this or it is nothing. Every law which the state enacts indicates a fact in human nature; that is all. We must in ourselves see the necessary reason of every fact,see how it could and must be. So stand before every public and private work; before an oration of Burke, before a victory of Napoleon, before a martyrdom of Sir Thomas More, of Sidney, of Marmaduke Robinson;9 before a French Reign of Terror, and a Salem hanging of witches; before a fanatic Revival and the Animal Magnetism in Paris, or in Providence. We assume that we under like influence should be alike affected, and should achieve the like; and we aim to master intellectually the steps and reach the same height or the same degradation that our fellow, our proxy has done.
All inquiry into antiquity, all curiosity respecting the Pyramids, the excavated cities, Stonehenge, the Ohio Circles, Mexico, Memphis,is the desire to do away this wild, savage, and preposterous There or Then, and introduce in its place the Here and the Now. Belzoni digs and measures in the mummy-pits and pyramids of Thebes until he can see the end of the difference between the monstrous work and himself. When he has satisfied himself, in general and in detail, that it was made by such a person as he, so armed and so motived, and to ends to which he himself should also have worked, the problem is solved; his thought lives along the whole line of temples and sphinxes and catacombs, passes through them all with satisfaction, and they live again to the mind, or are now.
A Gothic cathedral affirms that it was done by us and not done by us. Surely it was by man, but we find it not in our man. But we apply ourselves to the history of its production. We put ourselves into the place and state of the builder. We remember the forest-dwellers, the first temples, the adherence to the first type, and the decoration of it as the wealth of the nation increased; the value which is given to wood by carving led to the carving over the whole mountain of stone of a cathedral. When we have gone through this process, and added thereto the Catholic Church, its cross, its music, its processions, its Saints days and image-worship, we have as it were been the man that made the minster; we have seen how it could and must be. We have the sufficient reason.10
The difference between men is in their principle of association. Some men classify objects by color and size and other accidents of appearance; others by intrinsic likeness, or by the relation of cause and effect. The progress of the intellect is to the clearer vision of causes, which neglects surface differences. To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine. For the eye is fastened on the life, and slights the circumstance. Every chemical substance, every plant, every animal in its growth, teaches the unity of cause, the variety of appearance.
Upborne and surrounded as we are by this all-creating nature, soft and fluid as a cloud or the air, why should we be such hard pedants, and magnify a few forms? Why should we make account of time, or of magnitude, or of figure? The soul knows them not, and genius, obeying its law, knows how to play with them as a young child plays with graybeards and in churches. Genius studies the causal thought, and far back in the womb of things sees the rays parting from one orb, that diverge, ere they fall, by infinite diameters. Genius watches the monad through all his masks as he performs the metempsychosis of nature. Genius detects through the fly, through the caterpillar, through the grub, through the egg, the constant individual; through countless individuals the fixed species; through many species the genus; through all genera the steadfast type; through all the kingdoms of organized life the eternal unity. Nature is a mutable cloud which is always and never the same. She casts the same thought into troops of forms, as a poet makes twenty fables with one moral. Through the bruteness and toughness of matter, a subtle spirit bends all things to its own will. The adamant streams into soft but precise form before it, and whilst I look at it its outline and texture are changed again. Nothing is so fleeting as form; yet never does it quite deny itself. In man we still trace the remains or hints of all that we esteem badges of servitude in the lower races; yet in him they enhance his nobleness and grace; as Io, in Æschylus, transformed to a cow, offends the imagination; but how changed when as Isis in Egypt she meets Osiris-Jove, a beautiful woman with nothing of the metamorphosis left but the lunar horns as the splendid ornament of her brows!
The identity of history is equally intrinsic, the diversity equally obvious. There is, at the surface, infinite variety of things; at the centre there is simplicity of cause. How many are the acts of one man in which we recognize the same character! Observe the sources of our information in respect to the Greek genius. We have the civil history of that people, as Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Plutarch have given it; a very sufficient account of what manner of persons they were and what they did. We have the same national mind expressed for us again in their literature, in epic and lyric poems, drama, and philosophy; a very complete form. Then we have it once more in their architecture, a beauty as of temperance itself, limited to the straight line and the square,a builded geometry. Then we have it once again in sculpture, the tongue on the balance of expression, a multitude of forms in the utmost freedom of action and never transgressing the ideal serenity; like votaries performing some religious dance before the gods, and, though in convulsive pain or mortal combat, never daring to break the figure and decorum of their dance. Thus of the genius of one remarkable people we have a fourfold representation: and to the senses what more unlike than an ode of Pindar, a marble centaur, the peristyle of the Parthenon, and the last actions of Phocion?11
Every one must have observed faces and forms which, without any resembling feature, make a like impression on the beholder. A particular picture or copy of verses, if it do not awaken the same train of images, will yet superinduce the same sentiment as some wild mountain walk, although the resemblance is nowise obvious to the senses, but is occult and out of the reach of the understanding. Nature is an endless combination and repetition of a very few laws. She hums the old well-known air through innumerable variations.12
Nature is full of a sublime family likeness throughout her works, and delights in startling us with resemblances in the most unexpected quarters. I have seen the head of an old sachem of the forest which at once reminded the eye of a bald mountain summit, and the furrows of the brow suggested the strata of the rock. There are men whose manners have the same essential splendor as the simple and awful sculpture on the friezes of the Parthenon and the remains of the earliest Greek art. And there are compositions of the same strain to be found in the books of all ages. What is Guidos Rospigliosi Aurora but a morning thought, as the horses in it are only a morning cloud?13 If any one will but take pains to observe the variety of actions to which he is equally inclined in certain moods of mind, and those to which he is averse, he will see how deep is the chain of affinity.
A painter told me that nobody could draw a tree without in some sort becoming a tree; or draw a child by studying the outlines of its form merely,but by watching for a time his motions and plays, the painter enters into his nature and can then draw him at will in every attitude. So Roos entered into the inmost nature of a sheep. I knew a draughtsman employed in a public survey who found that he could not sketch the rocks until their geological structure was first explained to him. In a certain state of thought is the common origin of very diverse works. It is the spirit and not the fact that is identical. By a deeper apprehension, and not primarily by a painful acquisition of many manual skills, the artist attains the power of awakening other souls to a given activity.
It has been said that common souls pay with what they do, nobler souls with that which they are. And why? Because a profound nature awakens in us by its actions and words, by its very looks and manners, the same power and beauty that a gallery of sculpture or of pictures addresses.
Civil and natural history, the history of art and of literature, must be explained from individual history, or must remain words. There is nothing but is related to us, nothing that does not interest us,kingdom, college, tree, horse, or iron shoe,the roots of all things are in man. Santa Croce and the Dome of St. Peters are lame copies after a divine model.14 Strasburg Cathedral is a material counterpart of the soul of Erwin of Steinbach. The true poem is the poets mind; the true ship is the ship-builder. In the man, could we lay him open, we should see the reason for the last flourish and tendril of his work; as every spine and tint in the sea-shell preëxists in the secreting organs of the fish. The whole of heraldry and of chivalry is in courtesy. A man of fine manners shall pronounce your name with all the ornament that titles of nobility could ever add.
The trivial experience of every day is always verifying some old prediction to us and converting into things the words and signs which we had heard and seen without heed. A lady with whom I was riding in the forest said to me that the woods always seemed to her to wait, as if the genii who inhabit them suspended their deeds until the wayfarer had passed onward; a thought which poetry has celebrated in the dance of the fairies, which breaks off on the approach of human feet. The man who has seen the rising moon break out of the clouds at midnight, has been present like an archangel at the creation of light and of the world. I remember one summer day in the fields my companion pointed out to me a broad cloud, which might extend a quarter of a mile parallel to the horizon, quite accurately in the form of a cherub as painted over churches,a round block in the centre, which it was easy to animate with eyes and mouth, supported on either side by wide-stretched symmetrical wings. What appears once in the atmosphere may appear often, and it was undoubtedly the archetype of that familiar ornament. I have seen in the sky a chain of summer lightning which at once showed to me that the Greeks drew from nature when they painted the thunderbolt in the hand of Jove. I have seen a snow-drift along the sides of the stone wall which obviously gave the idea of the common architectural scroll to abut a tower.15
By surrounding ourselves with the original circumstances we invent anew the orders and the ornaments of architecture, as we see how each people merely decorated its primitive abodes. The Doric temple preserves the semblance of the wooden cabin in which the Dorian dwelt. The Chinese pagoda is plainly a Tartar tent. The Indian and Egyptian temples still betray the mounds and subterranean houses of their forefathers. The custom of making houses and tombs in the living rock, says Heeren in his Researches on the Ethiopians, determined very naturally the principal character of the Nubian Egyptian architecture to the colossal form which it assumed. In these caverns, already prepared by nature, the eye was accustomed to dwell on huge shapes and masses, so that when art came to the assistance of nature it could not move on a small scale without degrading itself. What would statues of the usual size, or neat porches and wings have been, associated with those gigantic halls before which only Colossi could sit as watchmen or lean on the pillars of the interior?
The Gothic church plainly originated in a rude adaptation of the forest trees, with all their boughs, to a festal or solemn arcade; as the bands about the cleft pillars still indicate the green withes that tied them. No one can walk in a road cut through pine woods, without being struck with the architectural appearance of the grove, especially in winter, when the barrenness of all other trees shows the low arch of the Saxons. In the woods in a winter afternoon one will see as readily the origin of the stained glass window, with which the Gothic cathedrals are adorned, in the colors of the western sky seen through the bare and crossing branches of the forest. Nor can any lover of nature enter the old piles of Oxford and the English cathedrals, without feeling that the forest overpowered the mind of the builder, and that his chisel, his saw and plane still reproduced its ferns, its spikes of flowers, its locust, elm, oak, pine, fir and spruce.16
The Gothic cathedral is a blossoming in stone subdued by the insatiable demand of harmony in man. The mountain of granite blooms into an eternal flower, with the lightness and delicate finish as well as the aerial proportions and perspective of vegetable beauty.
In like manner all public facts are to be individualized, all private facts are to be generalized. Then at once History becomes fluid and true, and Biography deep and sublime. As the Persian imitated in the slender shafts and capitals of his architecture the stem and flower of the lotus and palm, so the Persian court in its magnificent era never gave over the nomadism of its barbarous tribes, but travelled from Ecbatana, where the spring was spent, to Susa in summer and to Babylon for the winter.
In the early history of Asia and Africa, Nomadism and Agriculture are the two antagonist facts. The geography of Asia and of Africa necessitated a nomadic life. But the nomads were the terror of all those whom the soil or the advantages of a market had induced to build towns. Agriculture therefore was a religious injunction, because of the perils of the state from nomadism. And in these late and civil countries of England and America these propensities still fight out the old battle, in the nation and in the individual. The nomads of Africa were constrained to wander, by the attacks of the gad-fly, which drives the cattle mad, and so compels the tribe to emigrate in the rainy season and to drive off the cattle to the higher sandy regions. The nomads of Asia follow the pasturage from month to month. In America and Europe the nomadism is of trade and curiosity; a progress, certainly, from the gad-fly of Astaboras17 to the Anglo and Italomania of Boston Bay.18 Sacred cities, to which a periodical religious pilgrimage was enjoined, or stringent laws and customs tending to invigorate the national bond, were the check on the old rovers; and the cumulative values of long residence are the restraints on the itinerancy of the present day. The antagonism of the two tendencies is not less active in individuals, as the love of adventure or the love of repose happens to predominate. A man of rude health and flowing spirits has the faculty of rapid domestication, lives in his wagon and roams through all latitudes as easily as a Calmuc.19 At sea, or in the forest, or in the snow, he sleeps as warm, dines with as good appetite, and associates as happily as beside his own chimneys. Or perhaps his facility is deeper seated, in the increased range of his faculties of observation, which yield him points of interest wherever fresh objects meet his eyes. The pastoral nations were needy and hungry to desperation; and this intellectual nomadism, in its excess, bankrupts the mind through the dissipation of power on a miscellany of objects. The home-keeping wit, on the other hand, is that continence or content which finds all the elements of life in its own soil; and which has its own perils of monotony and deterioration, if not stimulated by foreign infusions.20
Every thing the individual sees without him corresponds to his states of mind, and every thing is in turn intelligible to him, as his onward thinking leads him into the truth to which that fact or series belongs.
The primeval world,the Fore-World, as the Germans say,I can dive to it in myself as well as grope for it with researching fingers in catacombs, libraries, and the broken reliefs and torsos of ruined villas.
What is the foundation of that interest all men feel in Greek history, letters, art and poetry, in all its periods from the Heroic or Homeric age down to the domestic life of the Athenians and Spartans, four or five centuries later? What but this, that every man passes personally through a Grecian period. The Grecian state is the era of the bodily nature, the perfection of the senses,of the spiritual nature unfolded in strict unity with the body. In it existed those human forms which supplied the sculptor with his models of Hercules, Phbus, and Jove; not like the forms abounding in the streets of modern cities, wherein the face is a confused blur of features, but composed of incorrupt, sharply defined and symmetrical features, whose eye-sockets are so formed that it would be impossible for such eyes to squint and take furtive glances on this side and on that, but they must turn the whole head. The manners of that period are plain and fierce. The reverence exhibited is for personal qualities; courage, address, self-command, justice, strength, swiftness, a loud voice, a broad chest. Luxury and elegance are not known. A sparse population and want make every man his own valet, cook, butcher and soldier, and the habit of supplying his own needs educates the body to wonderful performances. Such are the Agamemnon and Diomed of Homer, and not far different is the picture Xenophon gives of himself and his compatriots in the Retreat of the Ten Thousand. After the army had crossed the river Teleboas in Armenia, there fell much snow, and the troops lay miserably on the ground covered with it. But Xenophon arose naked, and taking an axe, began to split wood; whereupon others rose and did the like.21 Throughout his army exists a boundless liberty of speech. They quarrel for plunder, they wrangle with the generals on each new order, and Xenophon is as sharp-tongued as any and sharper-tongued than most, and so gives as good as he gets. Who does not see that this is a gang of great boys, with such a code of honor and such lax discipline as great boys have?
The costly charm of the ancient tragedy, and indeed of all the old literature, is that the persons speak simply,speak as persons who have great good sense without knowing it, before yet the reflective habit has become the predominant habit of the mind. Our admiration of the antique is not admiration of the old, but of the natural. The Greeks are not reflective, but perfect in their senses and in their health, with the finest physical organization in the world. Adults acted with the simplicity and grace of children. They made vases, tragedies and statues, such as healthy senses should,that is, in good taste. Such things have continued to be made in all ages, and are now, wherever a healthy physique exists; but, as a class, from their superior organization, they have surpassed all. They combine the energy of manhood with the engaging unconsciousness of childhood. The attraction of these manners is that they belong to man, and are known to every man in virtue of his being once a child; besides that there are always individuals who retain these characteristics. A person of childlike genius and inborn energy is still a Greek, and revives our love of the Muse of Hellas. I admire the love of nature in the Philoctetes. In reading those fine apostrophes to sleep, to the stars, rocks, mountains and waves, I 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 fellow-beings as I. The sun and moon, water and fire, met his heart precisely as they meet mine. Then the vaunted distinction between Greek and English, between Classic and Romantic schools, seems superficial and pedantic. When a thought of Plato becomes a thought to me,when a truth that fired the soul of Pindar fires mine, time is no more. When I feel that we two meet in a perception, that our two souls are tinged with the same hue, and do as it were run into one, why should I measure degrees of latitude, why should I count Egyptian years?
The student interprets the age of chivalry by his own age of chivalry, and the days of maritime adventure and circumnavigation by quite parallel miniature experiences of his own. To the sacred history of the world he has the same key. When the voice of a prophet out of the deeps of antiquity merely echoes to him a sentiment of his infancy, a prayer of his youth, he then pierces to the truth through all the confusion of tradition and the caricature of institutions.
Rare, extravagant spirits come by us at intervals, who disclose to us new facts in nature. I see that men of God have from time to time walked among men and made their commission felt in the heart and soul of the commonest hearer. Hence evidently the tripod, the priest, the priestess inspired by the divine afflatus.
Jesus astonishes and overpowers sensual people. They cannot unite him to history, or reconcile him with themselves. As they come to revere their intuitions and aspire to live holily; their own piety explains every fact, every word.
I have seen the first monks and anchorets, without crossing seas or centuries. More than once some individual has appeared to me with such negligence of labor 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.22
The priestcraft of the East and West, of the Magian, Brahmin, Druid, and Inca, is expounded in the individuals private life. The cramping influence of a hard formalist on a young child, in repressing his spirits and courage, paralyzing the understanding, and that without producing indignation, but only fear and obedience, and even much sympathy with the tyranny,is a familiar fact, explained to the child when he becomes a man, only by seeing that the oppressor of his youth is himself a child tyrannized over by those names and words and forms of whose influence he was merely the organ to the youth. The fact teaches him how Belus was worshipped and how the Pyramids were built, better than the discovery by Champollion of the names of all the workmen and the cost of every tile. He finds Assyria and the Mounds of Cholula at his door, and himself has laid the courses.
Again, in that 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 them, new perils to virtue. He learns again what moral vigor is needed to supply the girdle of a superstition. 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 whilst subject to papacy we prayed so often and with such fervor, whilst now we pray with the utmost coldness and very seldom?23
The advancing man discovers how deep a property he has in literature,in all fable as well as in all history. He 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 wonderfully intelligible to him, dotted down before he was born. One after another he comes up in his private adventures with every fable of Æsop, of Homer, of Hafiz, of Ariosto, of Chaucer, of Scott, and verifies them with his own head and hands.
The beautiful fables of the Greeks, being proper creations of the imagination and not of the fancy, are universal verities. What a range of meanings and what perpetual pertinence has the story of Prometheus! Beside its primary value as the first chapter of the history of Europe, (the mythology thinly veiling authentic facts, the invention of the mechanic arts and the migration of colonies,) it gives the history of religion, with some closeness to the faith of later ages. Prometheus is the Jesus of the old mythology. He is the friend of man; stands between the unjust justice of the Eternal Father and the race of mortals, and readily suffers all things on their account.24 But where it departs from the Calvinistic Christianity and exhibits him as the defier of Jove, it represents a state of mind which readily appears wherever the doctrine of Theism is taught in a crude, objective form, and which seems the self-defence of man against this untruth, namely a discontent with the believed fact that a God exists, and a feeling that the obligation of reverence is onerous. It would steal if it could the fire of the Creator, and live apart from him and independent of him. The Prometheus Vinctus is the romance of skepticism. Not less true to all time are the details of that stately apologue. Apollo kept the flocks of Admetus, said the poets. When the gods come among men, they are not known. Jesus was not; Socrates and Shakspeare were not. Antæus was suffocated by the gripe of Hercules, but every time he touched his mother-earth his strength was renewed. Man is the broken giant, and in all his weakness both his body and his mind are invigorated by habits of conversation with nature. The power of music, the power of poetry, to unfix and as it were clap wings to solid nature, interprets the riddle of Orpheus.25 The philosophical perception of identity through endless mutations of form makes him know the Proteus. What else am I who laughed or wept yesterday, who slept last night like a corpse, and this morning stood and ran? And what see I on any side but the transmigrations of Proteus? I can symbolize my thought by using the name of any creature, of any fact, because every creature is man agent or patient. Tantalus is but a name for you and me. Tantalus means the impossibility of drinking the waters of thought which are always gleaming and waving within sight of the soul.26 The transmigration of souls is no fable. I would it were; but men and women are only half human. Every animal of the barn-yard, the field and the forest, of the earth and of the waters that are under the earth, has contrived to get a footing and to leave the print of its features and form in some one or other of these upright, heaven-facing speakers. Ah! brother, stop the ebb of thy soul,ebbing downward into the forms into whose habits thou hast now for many years slid.27 As near and proper to us is also that old fable of the Sphinx, who was said to sit in the road-side and put riddles to every passenger. If the man could not answer, she swallowed him alive. If he could solve the riddle, the Sphinx was slain. What is our life but an endless flight of winged facts or events? In splendid variety these changes come, all putting questions to the human spirit. Those men who cannot answer by a superior wisdom these facts or questions of time, serve them. Facts encumber them, tyrannize over them, and make the men of routine, the men of sense, in whom a literal obedience to facts has extinguished every spark of that light by which man is truly man. But if the man is true to his better instincts or sentiments, and refuses the dominion of facts, as one that comes of a higher race; remains fast by the soul and sees the principle, then the facts fall aptly and supple into their places; they know their master, and the meanest of them glorifies him.28
See in Goethes Helena the same desire that every word should be a thing. These figures, he would say, these Chirons, Griffins, Phorkyas, Helen and Leda, are somewhat, and do exert a specific influence on the mind. So far then are they eternal entities, as real to-day as in the first Olympiad. Much revolving them he writes out freely his humor, and gives them body to his own imagination. And although that poem be as vague and fantastic as a dream, yet is it much more attractive than the more regular dramatic pieces of the same author, for the reason that it operates a wonderful relief to the mind from the routine of customary images,awakens the readers invention and fancy by the wild freedom of the design, and by the unceasing succession of brisk shocks of surprise.
The universal nature, too strong for the petty nature of the bard, sits on his neck and writes through his hand; so that when he seems to vent a mere caprice and wild romance, the issue is an exact allegory. Hence Plato said that poets utter great and wise things which they do not themselves understand.29 All the fictions of the Middle Age explain themselves as a masked or frolic expression of that which in grave earnest the mind of that period toiled to achieve. Magic and all that is ascribed to it is a deep presentiment of the powers of science. The shoes of swiftness, the sword of sharpness, the power of subduing the elements, of using the secret virtues of minerals, of understanding the voices of birds, are the obscure efforts of the mind in a right direction. The preternatural prowess of the hero, the gift of perpetual youth, and the like, are alike the endeavor of the human spirit to bend the shows of things to the desires of the mind.
In Perceforest and Amadis de Gaul a garland and a rose bloom on the head of her who is faithful, and fade on the brow of the inconstant. In the story of the Boy and the Mantle30 even a mature reader may be surprised with a glow of virtuous pleasure at the triumph of the gentle Genelas; and indeed all the postulates of elfin annals,that the fairies do not like to be named; that their gifts are capricious and not to be trusted; that who seeks a treasure must not speak; and the like,I find true in Concord, however they might be in Cornwall or Bretagne.
Is it otherwise in the newest romance? I read the Bride of Lammermoor. Sir William Ashton is a mask for a vulgar temptation, Ravenswood Castle a fine name for proud poverty, and the foreign mission of state only a Bunyan disguise for honest industry. We may all shoot a wild bull that would toss the good and beautiful, by fighting down the unjust and sensual. Lucy Ashton is another name for fidelity, which is always beautiful and always liable to calamity in this world.
But along with the civil and metaphysical history of man, another history goes daily forward,that of the external world,in which he is not less strictly implicated. He is the compend of time; he is also the correlative of nature. His power consists in the multitude of his affinities, in the fact that his life is intertwined with the whole chain of organic and inorganic being. In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go as it were highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world.31 Put Napoleon in an island prison, let his faculties find no men to act on, no Alps to climb, no stake to play for, and he would beat the air, and appear stupid. Transport him to large countries, dense population, complex interests and antagonist power, and you shall see that the man Napoleon, bounded that is by such a profile and outline, is not the virtual Napoleon. This is but Talbots shadow;
Columbus needs a planet to shape his course upon. Newton and Laplace need myriads of age and thick-strewn celestial areas. One may say a gravitating solar system is already prophesied in the nature of Newtons mind. Not less does the brain of Davy or of Gay-Lussac, from childhood exploring the affinities and repulsions of particles, anticipate the laws of organization. Does not the eye of the human embryo predict the light? the ear of Handel predict the witchcraft of harmonic sound? Do not the constructive fingers of Watt, Fulton, Whittemore, Arkwright, predict the fusible, hard, and temperable texture of metals, the properties of stone, water, and wood? Do not the lovely attributes of the maiden child predict the refinements and decorations of civil society? Here also we are reminded of the action of man on man. A mind might ponder its thoughts for ages and not gain so much self-knowledge as the passion of love shall teach it in a day. Who knows himself before he has been thrilled with indignation at an outrage, or has heard an eloquent tongue, or has shared the throb of thousands in a national exultation or alarm? No man can antedate his experience, or guess what faculty or feeling a new object shall unlock, any more than he can draw to-day the face of a person whom he shall see to-morrow for the first time.
I will not now go behind the general statement to explore the reason of this correspondency. Let it suffice that in the light of these two facts, namely, that the mind is One, and that nature is its correlative, history is to be read and written.
Thus in all ways does the soul concentrate and reproduce its treasures for each pupil. He too shall pass through the whole cycle of experience. He shall collect into a focus the rays of nature. History no longer shall be a dull book. It shall walk incarnate in every just and wise man. You shall not tell me by languages and titles a catalogue of the volumes you have read. You shall make me feel what periods you have lived. A man shall be the Temple of Fame. He shall walk, as the poets have described that goddess, in a robe painted all over with wonderful events and experiences;his own form and features by their exalted intelligence shall be that variegated vest. I shall find in him the Foreworld; in his childhood the Age of Gold, the Apples of Knowledge, the Argonautic Expedition, the calling of Abraham, the building of the Temple, the Advent of Christ, Dark Ages, the Revival of Letters, the Reformation, the discovery of new lands, the opening of new sciences and new regions in man. He shall be the priest of Pan, and bring with him into humble cottages the blessing of the morning stars, and all the recorded benefits of heaven and earth.
Is there somewhat overweening in this claim? Then I reject all I have written, for what is the use of pretending to know what we know not? But it is the fault of our rhetoric that we cannot strongly state one fact without seeming to belie some other. I hold our actual knowledge very cheap. Hear the rats in the wall, see the lizard on the fence, the fungus under foot, the lichen on the log. What do I know sympathetically, morally, of either of these worlds of life? As old as the Caucasian man,perhaps older,these creatures have kept their counsel beside him, and there is no record of any word or sign that has passed from one to the other.33 What connection do the books show between the fifty or sixty chemical elements and the historical eras? Nay, what does history yet record of the metaphysical annals of man? What light does it shed on those mysteries which we hide under the names Death and Immortality? Yet every history should be written in a wisdom which divined the range of our affinities and looked at facts as symbols. I am ashamed to see what a shallow village tale our so-called History is. How many times we must say Rome, and Paris, and Constantinople! What does Rome know of rat and lizard? What are Olympiads and Consulates to these neighboring systems of being? Nay, what food or experience or succor have they for the Esquimaux seal-hunter, for the Kanàka in his canoe, for the fisherman, the stevedore, the porter?
Broader and deeper we must write our annals,from an ethical reformation, from an influx of the ever new, ever sanative conscience,if we would trulier express our central and wide-related nature, instead of this old chronology of selfishness and pride to which we have too long lent our eyes. Already that day exists for us, shines in on us at unawares, but the path of science and of letters is not the way into nature. The idiot, the Indian, the child and unschooled farmers boy stand nearer to the light by which nature is to be read, than the dissector or the antiquary.34
Note 1. Both of these mottoes appear in the first edition: in both is the thought of the Over-Soul, which later appeared in Oriental form in Brahma. The desire to express himself in verse, which Mr. Emerson felt so strongly, had so far overcome his humility that during the months in which he was preparing this essay he had contributed to the first number of Dial The Problem, and The Sphinx appeared in the third. [back]
Note 2. After the publication of Nature, the first hint that appears of the collection by Mr. Emerson of his writings into a second book, occurs in the end of a letter to Mr. Alcott, written April 16, 1839, which Mr. Sanborn gives in his Memoir of Bronson Alcott: I have been writing a little, and arranging old papers more, and by and by I hope to get a shapely book of Genesis. In a letter written in April, 1840, to Carlyle, Mr. Emerson thus alludes to the Essays: I am here at work now for a fortnight to spin some single cord out of my thousand and one strands of every color and texture that lie ravelled around me in old snarls. We need to be possessed with a mountainous conviction of the value of our advice to our contemporaries, if we will take such pains to find what that is. But no, it is the pleasure of the spinning that betrays poor spinners into the loss of so much good time. I shall work with the more diligence on this book-to-be of mine, that you inform me again and again that my penny tracts [Nature, and the various addresses, published at first separately in pamphlet form] are still extant; nay, that beside friendly men, learned and poetic men read and even review them. I am like Scholasticus of the Greek Primer, who was ashamed to bring out so small a dead child before such grand people. Pygmalion shall try if he cannot fashion a better,certainly a bigger. Four months later he tells of the problems at home,a good deal of movement and tendency emerging into sight every day in church and state, in social modes and in letters. You will naturally ask me if I try my hand at the history of all this . No, not in the near and practical way in which they seem to invite. I incline to write philosophy, poetry, possibilityanything but history. And yet this phantom of the next age limns himself sometimes so large and plain that every feature is apprehensible and challenges a painter . I dot evermore in my endless journal, a line on every knowable in nature; but the arrangement loiters long, and I get a brick-kiln instead of a house. Soon after the coming in of the new year he sends word: In a fortnight or three weeks my little raft will be afloat. Expect nothing more of my powers of construction,no ship-building, no clipper, smack, nor skiff even, only boards and logs tied together. In his Journal he wrote, in January, 1841: All my thoughts are foresters. I have scarce a day-dream on which the breath of the pines has not blown and their shadows waved. Shall I not therefore call my little book Forest Essays? The book was published in March, 1841, in Boston, by James Munroe and Company. Soon after Nature had appeared, Carlyle had written to his friend: There is a man here called John Sterling, whom I love better than any one I have met with, since a certain sky-messenger alighted to me at Craigenputtock and vanished in the Blue again. [Alluding to Emersons first visit to him among the moors of Nithsdale in 1833.] Well, and what then, cry you? Why then, this John Sterling has fallen overhead in love with a certain Waldo Emerson; that is all. He saw the little book Nature lying here; and, across a whole silva silvarum of prejudices, discerned what was in it, took it to his heart,and indeed into his pocket . This is the small piece of pleasant news, that two sky-messengers (such they were, both of them, to me) have met and recognized each other, and by Gods blessing there shall one day be a trio of us; call you that nothing? Sterling wrote to Emerson and a noble friendship resulted. Although they never met in the body, these friends had more in common with each other in their hope, their courage, and their desire for expression in poetry than either had with Carlyle. Sterling died in 1844. Emerson sent Sterling his Essays, saying, They are not yet a fortnight old. I have written your name in a copy and sent it to Carlyle by the same steamer . I wish, but scarce dare hope, you may find in it any thing of the pristine sacredness of thought. All thoughts are holy when they come floating up to us in magical newness from the hidden Life, and t is no wonder we are enamoured with these Muses and Graces, until, in our devotion to particular beauties and in our efforts at artificial disposition, we lose somewhat of our universal sense and the sovereign eye of Proportion. All sins, literary and æsthetic and scientific, as well as moral, grow out of unbelief at last. We must needs meddle ambitiously, and cannot quite trust that there is life, self-evolving and indestructible, but which cannot be hastened, at the heart of every physical and metaphysical fact. Yet how we thank and greet, almost adore the person who has once or twice in a lifetime treated any thing sublimely, and certified us that he beheld the Law. The silence and obscurity in which he acted are of no account, for every thing is equally related to the soul. I certainly did not mean, when I took up this paper, to write an essay on Faith, and yet I am always willing to declare how indigent I think our poetry and all literature is become for want of that. My thought had only this scope, no more: that though I had long ago grown extremely discontented with my little book, yet were the thoughts in it honest in their first rising and honestly reported, but that I am very sensible how much in this, as in very much greater matters, interference, or what we miscall art, will spoil true things. [A Correspondence between John Sterling and Ralph Waldo Emerson] Carlyle now had opportunity to return his friends kindness in introducing him to American readers. In a letter written to Emerson on June 25, 1841, he said: My second piece of news is that Emersons Essays, the book so called, is to be reprinted here; nay, I think, is even now at press . Fraser undertakes it on half profits; T. Carlyle writing a preface, which accordingly he did . The edition is of Seven Hundred and Fifty . With what joy shall I sack up the small Ten Pounds Sterling perhaps of Half Profits, and remit them to the man Emerson; saying: There, Man! tit for tat, the reciprocity not all on one side! I ought to say, moreover, that this was a volunteer scheme of Frasers; the risk is all his, the origin of it was with him: I advised him to have it reviewed, as being a really noteworthy Book. Write you a Preface, said he, and I will reprint it; to which, after due delay and meditation, I consented. In a curious and characteristic preface, among other things, Carlyle said: The name of Ralph Waldo Emerson is not entirely new, in England; distinguished travellers bring us tidings of such a man; fractions of his writings have found their way into the hands of the curious here; fitful hints that there is in New England some spiritual notability called Emerson glide through the reviews and magazines. Emersons writings and speakings amount to something; and yet, hitherto, as it seems to me, this Emerson is far less notable for what he has spoken or done than for the many things he has not spoken and has forborne to do . For myself, I have looked over with no common feeling to this brave Emerson, seated by his rustic hearth on the other side of the ocean (yet not altogether parted from me either), silently communing with his own soul and with the Gods World it finds itself alive in yonder. Pleasures of Virtue, Progress of the Species, Black Emancipation, New Tariff, Eclecticism, Locofocoism, Ghost of Improved Socinianism,these, with many other Ghosts and substances, are squeaking, jabbering according to their capabilities round this man. To one man among the sixteen millions their jabber is all unmusical. The silent voices of the stars above and of the green earth beneath are profitable to himtell him gradually that these others are but ghosts which will shortly have to vanish; that the life-fountain these proceed out of does not vanish . Emerson, I understand, was bred to theology; of which primary bent his latest way of thought still bears traces. In a very enigmatic way, we hear much of the Universal Soul of the, etc., flickering like bright bodiless northern streamers. Notions and half-notions of a metaphysic, theosophic kind are seldom long wanting in these Essays. I do not advise the British public to trouble itself much with all that: still less to take offence at it . That this little book has no system, and points or stretches far beyond all systems, is one of its merits. We will call it the soliloquy of a true soul alone under the stars, in this day. Mr. George W. Cooke, in his careful study of the life of Mr. Emerson [Ralph Waldo Emerson, his Life, Writings, and Philosophy. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co. 1887], relates that five years later the Countess d Agoult, who wrote under the nom de plume of Daniel Stern, told in the Revue Indépendante (July) how having read a mention of the Essays by Philarète Chasles in an article on literary tendencies in America, and later heard a quotation from them in a lecture by a foreign poet, Mickiewicz, she tried to obtain the book in Paris, but had to send to London for it. She was greatly pleased, and in her article expressed surprise at the general ignorance concerning the writer. The singular charm of the Essays, she said, is that we hold him accountable for nothing, because he pretends to nothing. He draws you after him with irresistible bonhomie. There is no difficulty in following him, for we breathe a salubrious atmosphere in his work. Nothing offends, not even the discords, because all is resolved and harmonized in the sentiment of a superior truth. In Berlin, Herman Grimm (who later wrote the lives of Michelangelo and Raphael), while waiting his turn in the parlor of the American dentist, chanced to pick up the Essays from the table; read a page, and was startled to find that I had understood nothing, though tolerably well acquainted with English. I inquired as to the author. In reply I was told that he was the first writer in America, an eminently gifted man, but somewhat crazed at times, and often unable to explain his own words. Notwithstanding, no one was held in such esteem for his character and for his prose writings. In short, the opinion fell upon my ears as so strange that I reopened the book. Some sentences, upon a second reading, shot like a beam of light into my very soul, and I was moved to put the book in my pocket, that I might read it more attentively at home . I took Websters Dictionary and began to read. The construction of the sentences struck me as very extraordinary. I soon discovered the secret: they were real thoughts, an individual language, a sincere man that I had before me; naught superficial, second-hand. Enough! I bought the book! From that time I have never ceased to read Emersons works, and whenever I take up a volume anew it seems to me as if I were reading it for the first time. But at home the book was not well received in all quarters. Mr. Cooke, in his biography, quotes an author in the Princeton Review who had found the Essays more devoid of real meaning than any other book which ever fell into his hands, and thought such essays could be produced through a lifetime as rapidly as a human pen could be made to move. Another critic, a distinguished classical scholar connected with one of the universities, seems to have recognized Mr. Emersons debt to the Greek and, through these, the Oriental philosophers, seeing in the ideas set forth ancient errors, mistaken for new truths and disguised in the drapery of a misty rhetoric.
The first essay in the volume, History, was not delivered as a single lecture, but in writing it Mr. Emerson made use of passages from lectures in three distinct courses; namely, that on English Literature (183536), on The Philosophy of History (183637), and on Human Life (183738), as is shown by Mr. Cabot in the chronological list of lectures and addresses in the Appendix (F) to his Memoir. The essay is a fit gateway to those that lie behind, for on its threshold is the doctrine of the Universal Mind, and beyond will be found those depending on and illustrating this, the Unity underlying the Flowing of Nature through endless cycles of Protean disguises, the Symbolism of Nature, the beauty of Law, working forward and upward alike in Nature, in races, and in the individual and his works. The course on The Philosophy of History (183637) had the following lectures, many of which appear as such or in their matter in the Essays.
I. Introduction (History has been ill written; its meaning and future, etc.)
II. Humanity of Science.
VIII. Trades and Professions.
XI. Present Age.
In his Journal, Mr. Emerson thus lays out the course in advance, with the belief in the Over-Soul as the foundation of all. There is one soul. It is related to the world. Art is its action thereon. Science finds its methods. Literature is its record. Religion is the emotion of reverence that it inspires. Ethics is the soul illustrated in human life. Society is the finding of this soul by individuals in each other. Trades are the learning the soul in nature by labor. Politics is the activity of the soul illustrated in power. Manners are silent and mediate expressions of soul. [back]
Note 3. It will be remembered that the Sphinxs fatal riddle, which dipus solved, related to Man in his infancy, his prime and his decline. In the end of Nature (vol. i.), man as a microcosm had been considered, and Herbert brought to testify in his beautiful poem Man. [back]
Note 4. In this passage, and one in Self-Reliance,An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man, with the work of St. Anthony, Luther, Fox, Wesley and Clarkson as instances,came out Mr. Emersons belief in the duty and the power of the man of thought, a messenger of the Eternal Mind. [back]
Note 5. In the affectionate sympathy for reading boys, which crops out so often in his books, memories of his boyhood and of his brothers and some near friends, like Dr. William H. Furness, come to light. [back]
Note 7. Mr. Emerson often used to speak of the pitiful figure that certain scholars and statesmen presented, uttering elevated sentiments about Liberty and Justice in 1776, and being dumb on the subject of the flagrant violation of these principles in their own day. [back]
Note 8. That a man was principally of value for his atmosphere, and an event for the soul of it which survived for an example or in a poem, was a favorite idea with Mr. Emerson. He praised Sterlings line in Alfred the Harper,
Still lives the song, though Regnar dies!
With Swedenborg he valued Nature as a symbol. [back]
Note 9. I am indebted to Professor Charles Eliot Norton for calling my attention to the probable compounding of the name Marmaduke Robinson, through a slip of Mr. Emersons memory, out of the names of the two Quakers hung on Boston Common in 1659, Marmaduke Stevenson and William Robinson. [back]
Note 10. In The Problem he describes the evolution of the grand architecture, the temples and cathedrals, out of Thoughts interior sphere, and Natures ready adoption of them as her own. [back]
Note 11. Mr. Emerson was much more alive to the beauty of form than of color. Sculpture appealed to him more than painting. [back]
Note 12. The doctrine of the pervading unity which appears in the poem Xenophanes, written in 1834, hence one of the earliest of the published poems. [back]
Note 13. In the month of April, 1839, Carlyle sent Raphael Morghens engraving of the Aurora, by Guido in the Rospigliosi palace in Rome, to Mr. Emerson, saying, It is my wifes memorial to your wife . Two houses divided by wide seas are to understand always that they are united nevertheless. The picture still hangs in the parlor of Mr. Emersons home, with the inscription which accompanied it: Will the lady of Concord hang up this Italian sun-chariot somewhere in her Drawing Room, and, looking at it, think sometimes of a household here which has good cause never to forget hers. T. CARLYLE. Mr. Emerson used to point out to his children how the varied repetition of the manes, heads and prancing forefeet of the horses were imitations of the curved folds of a great cumulus cloud. [back]
Note 14. Here, as in the two essays on Art, in this volume and in Society and Solitude, the same thought appears, embodied also in The Problem in the lines beginning,
Note 16. The works of Heeren and others on Egypt, and the architectural handbooks of Fergusson and Garbett, with some of Ruskins writings, were read with interest by Mr. Emerson. The idea of Evolution, whether in the works of Nature or of man, early and always appealed to him. Perhaps the first suggestion of the ideas on this page came to him in his boyhood, in the welcome form of Scotts description of Melrose Abbey in the Lay of the Last Minstrel:
Note 18. The following is the version of the remainder of this paragraph in the first edition of the Essays: The difference between men in this respect is the faculty of rapid domestication, the power to find his chair and bed everywhere which one man has, and another has not. Some men have so much of the Indian left, have constitutionally such habits of accommodation, that at sea, or in the forest, or in the snow, they sleep as warm and dine with as good appetite and associate as happily as in their own house. And, to push this old fact one degree nearer, we may find it a representative of a permanent fact in human nature. The intellectual nomadism is the faculty of objectiveness, or of eyes which everywhere feed themselves. Who hath such eyes everywhere falls into easy relation with his fellow-men. Every man, every thing, is a prize, a study, a property to him, and this love smooths his brow, joins him to men, and makes him beautiful and beloved in their sight. His house is a wagon: he roams through all latitudes as easily as a Calmuc. [back]
Note 20. In the balancing of the claims on the scholar of society and solitude, so frequent in his writings, Mr. Emerson always gives most weight to solitude, yet admitting the necessity, for his sanity, his character, and his supply of raw material to work on, of mingling with the world and sharing the common exposures and experiences. In his journal of his first trip to Europe, it is remarkable how little he found to detain him and how anxious he was to return to his proper field of action and work. The same feeling was very marked during his visit to Europe and Egypt in his old age. [back]
Note 21. The freedom, the dignity and profit of self-help was a rule of practice, not a mere theory, with Mr. Emerson. [back]
Note 22. Many strange pilgrims were on the road in those days, ridiculous enough to the eye of the average New Englander, and these were attracted to Concord by the report that there hospitality to thought could be found. Their host ministered to their physical wants, and to their hunger to be heard. He took them by their best handle,and, as he wrote of his ideal man, The madness which he harbored he did not share. [back]
Note 23. The respect for the old religion that made New England, remained deeply ingrained in Mr. Emerson, though he had left that phase of belief and spiritual growth behind. Yet it was always before him in the fiery faith of his Aunt Mary, and in his own household in the devoted Christianity of his mother and his wife. He was aware of the losses that might well accompany too extreme reaction from early faith, and the Luther anecdote might well have had something akin to it in his domestic experience. [back]
Note 25. The power of true vision to unsettle and move and elevate everything, indeed the old doctrine of The Flowing of Heracleitus, the dance of the trees and the very mountains that Orpheus led, occurs in the prose, but especially in Mr. Emersons Poet in the Appendix to the Poems. [back]
Note 27. We probably perceive the influence of these latent inheritances [dormant tendencies to suppressed bestial parts or traits] when, in the battle of existence, species undergo retrograde changes, or, as naturalists phrase it, revert to a lower state of being . In the moral as well as the physical world, we may see these hidden seeds of ancestral impulse, when no longer overshadowed by the newer and therefore stronger motives, spring into activity and win the creature back to a lower estate.The Interpretation of Nature, by Professor N. S. Shaler. Boston, 1893. [back]
Note 28. See the opening paragraphs of The Poet, Essays, Second Series, and Poetry and Imagination, Letters and Social Aims, for the true use of facts. Mr. Emerson eagerly sought facts, not for themselves, but as oracles from which he was to draw the hidden but universal meaning. In his Journal in 1847, he speaks of the avarice with which he looks at the Insurance Office, and his longing to be admitted to hear the gossip of the notables of the village there: For an hour to be invisible and hear the best informed men retail their information he would pay great prices, but every company dissolves at his approach. He so eager and they so coy We want society on our own terms. Each man has facts that I want, and, though I talk with him, I cannot get at them for want of the clue. He does not know what to do with his facts: I know . Here is all Boston,all railroads, all manufactures and trade, in the head of this well-informed merchant at my side . Here is Agassiz with his theory of anatomy and nature; I am in his chamber and I do not know what question to put . Here is all Fourier in Brisbanes head; all language in Kraitsers; all Swedenborg in Reeds; all the Revolution in old Adams head; all modern Europe and America in John Quincy Adamss, and I cannot appropriate a fragment of all their experience . Now if I could cast a spell on this man at my side, and see his pictures without his intervention or organs, and having learned that lesson, turn the spell on another, lift up the cover of another hive, and see the cells and suck the honey they were not the poorer and I the richer. [back]
Note 29. When asked by one of his children whether some verse of Shakspeare, or perhaps it was a picture by Michelangelo, really was meant to carry with it the significance attributed to it, Mr. Emerson answered: Every one has a right to be credited with whatever of good another can find in his work. [back]
Note 30. Perceforest was a mediæval French historical romance, its scene being Britain in the pre-Arthurian period. Amadis de Gaul, a romance written in the fourteenth century, by Vasco de Lobeira, in Portugal, but which became very popular in later versions in other tongues. The Boy and the Mantle, an ancient English ballad. See Percys Reliques. [back]
Note 31. This passage with regard to mans faculties occurred in a lecture called The Doctrine of the Hands in the course on Human Culture, 183738. [back]
Note 33. It was a characteristic of Mr. Emersons writings to concentrate attention on some aspect of the matter on which he was speaking. He did not weaken a sentence, a paragraph, even, in some cases, a whole poem or lecture, by much qualification of his statement. He reserved the counter-statement, the other aspect, to present as neatly in another place. Hence, if but one essay be read, his position with reference to the church, or towards society, or reform, might be misunderstood. [back]
Note 34. This passage appears in verse in Limits, Poems, Appendix. [back]