IT2 chanced during one winter a few years ago, that our cities were bent on discussing the theory of the Age. By an odd coincidence, four or five noted men were each reading a discourse to the citizens of Boston or New York, on the Spirit of the Times. It so happened that the subject had the same prominence in some remarkable pamphlets and journals issued in London in the same season.3 To me, however, the question of the times resolved itself into a practical question of the conduct of life. How shall I live? We are incompetent to solve the times. Our geometry cannot span the huge orbits of the prevailing ideas, behold their return and reconcile their opposition. We can only obey our own polarity. T is fine for us to speculate and elect our course, if we must accept an irresistible dictation.
In our first steps to gain our wishes we come upon immovable limitations. We are fired with the hope to reform men. After many experiments we find that we must begin earlier,at school. But the boys and girls are not docile; we can make nothing of them. We decide that they are not of good stock. We must begin our reform earlier still,at generation: that is to say, there is Fate, or laws of the world.4
But if there be irresistible dictation, this dictation understands itself. If we must accept Fate, we are not less compelled to affirm liberty, the significance of the individual, the grandeur of duty, the power of character. This is true, and that other is true. But our geometry cannot span these extreme points and reconcile them. What to do? By obeying each thought frankly, by harping, or, if you will, pounding on each string, we learn at last its power. By the same obedience to other thoughts we learn theirs, and then comes some reasonable hope of harmonizing them. We are sure that, though we know not how, necessity does comport with liberty, the individual with the world, my polarity with the spirit of the times. The riddle of the age has for each a private solution. If one would study his own time, it must be by this method of taking up in turn each of the leading topics which belong to our scheme of human life, and by firmly stating all that is agreeable to experience on one, and doing the same justice to the opposing facts in the others, the true limitations will appear. Any excess of emphasis on one part would be corrected, and a just balance would be made.
But let us honestly state the facts. Our America has a bad name for superficialness. Great men, great nations, have not been boasters and buffoons, but perceivers of the terror of life, and have manned themselves to face it. The Spartan, embodying his religion in his country, dies before its majesty without a question. The Turk, who believes his doom is written on the iron leaf in the moment when he entered the world, rushes on the enemys sabre with undivided will. The Turk, the Arab, the Persian, accepts the foreordained fate:
On two days, it steads not to run from thy grave,
The appointed, and the unappointed day;
On the first, neither balm nor physician can save,
The Hindoo under the wheel is as firm. Our Calvinists in the last generation had something of the same dignity. They felt that the weight of the Universe held them down to their place. What could they do? Wise men feel that there is something which cannot be talked or voted away,a strap or belt which girds the world:
Savages cling to a local god of one tribe or town. The broad ethics of Jesus were quickly narrowed to village theologies, which preach an election or favoritism. And now and then an amiable parson, like Jung Stilling or Robert Huntington, believes in a pistareen-Providence, which, whenever the good man wants a dinner, makes that somebody shall knock at his door and leave a half-dollar.7 But Nature is no sentimentalist,does not cosset or pamper us. We must see that the world is rough and surly, and will not mind drowning a man or a woman, but swallows your ship like a grain of dust.8 The cold, inconsiderate of persons, tingles your blood, benumbs your feet, freezes a man like an apple. The diseases, the elements, fortune, gravity, lightning, respect no persons. The way of Providence is a little rude. The habit of snake and spider, the snap of the tiger and other leapers and bloody jumpers, the crackle of the bones of his prey in the coil of the anaconda,these are in the system, and our habits are like theirs. You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughter-house is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity, expensive races,race living at the expense of race. The planet is liable to shocks from comets, perturbations from planets, rendings from earthquake and volcano, alterations of climate, precessions of equinoxes. Rivers dry up by opening of the forest. The sea changes its bed. Towns and counties fall into it. At Lisbon an earthquake killed men like flies. At Naples three years ago ten thousand persons were crushed in a few minutes. The scurvy at sea, the sword of the climate in the west of Africa, at Cayenne, at Panama, at New Orleans, cut off men like a massacre. Our western prairie shakes with fever and ague. The cholera, the small-pox, have proved as mortal to some tribes as a frost to the crickets, which, having filled the summer with noise, are silencedby a fall of the temperature of one night. Without uncovering what does not concern us, or counting how many species of parasites hang on a bombyx, or groping after intestinal parasites or infusory biters, or the obscurities of alternate generation,the forms of the shark, the labrus, the jaw of the sea-wolf paved with crushing teeth, the weapons of the grampus, and other warriors hidden in the sea, are hints of ferocity in the interiors of nature. Let us not deny it up and down. Providence has a wild, rough, incalculable road to its end, and it is of no use to try to whitewash its huge, mixed instrumentalities, or to dress up that terrific benefactor in a clean shirt and white neckcloth of a student in divinity.
Will you say, the disasters which threaten mankind are exceptional, and one need not lay his account for cataclysms every day? Aye, but what happens once may happen again, and so long as these strokes are not to be parried by us they must be feared.
But these shocks and ruins are less destructive to us than the stealthy power of other laws which act on us daily. An expense of ends to means is fate;organization tyrannizing over character. The menagerie, or forms and powers of the spine, is a book of fate; the bill of the bird, the skull of the snake, determines tyrannically its limits.9 So is the scale of races, of temperaments; so is sex; so is climate; so is the reaction of talents imprisoning the vital power in certain directions. Every spirit makes its house; but afterwards the house confines the spirit.
The gross lines are legible to the dull; the cabman is phrenologist so far, he looks in your face to see if his shilling is sure. A dome of brow denotes one thing, a pot-belly another; a squint, a pug-nose, mats of hair, the pigment of the epidermis, betray character. People seem sheathed in their tough organization. Ask Spurzheim, ask the doctors, ask Quetelet if temperaments decide nothing?or if there be anything they do not decide?10 Read the description in medical books of the four temperaments and you will think you are reading your own thoughts which you had not yet told. Find the part which black eyes and which blue eyes play severally in the company. How shall a man escape from his ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black drop which he drew from his fathers or his mothers life? It often appears in a family as if all the qualities of the progenitors were potted in several jars,some ruling quality in each son or daughter of the house; and sometimes the unmixed temperament, the rank unmitigated elixir, the family vice is drawn off in a separate individual and the others are proportionally relieved.11 We sometimes see a change of expression in our companion and say his father or his mother comes to the windows of his eyes, and sometimes a remote relative. In different hours a man represents each of several of his ancestors, as if there were seven or eight of us rolled up in each mans skin,seven or eight ancestors at least; and they constitute the variety of notes for that new piece of music which his life is.12 At the corner of the street you read the possibility of each passenger in the facial angle, in the complexion, in the depth of his eye. His parentage determines it. Men are what their mothers made them. You may as well ask a loom which weaves huckabuck why it does not make cashmere, as expect poetry from this engineer, or a chemical discovery from that jobber.13 Ask the digger in the ditch to explain Newtons laws; the fine organs of his brain have been pinched by overwork and squalid poverty from father to son for a hundred years. When each comes forth from his mothers womb, the gate of gifts closes behind him.14 Let him value his hands and feet, he has but one pair. So he has but one future, and that is already predetermined in his lobes and described in that little fatty face, pig-eye, and squat form. All the privilege and all the legislation of the world cannot meddle or help to make a poet or a prince of him.15
Jesus said, When he looketh on her, he hath committed adultery. But he is an adulterer before he has yet looked on the woman, by the superfluity of animal and the defect of thought in his constitution. Who meets him, or who meets her, in the street, sees that they are ripe to be each others victim.
In certain men digestion and sex absorb the vital force, and the stronger these are, the individual is so much weaker. The more of these drones perish, the better for the hive. If, later, they give birth to some superior individual, with force enough to add to this animal a new aim and a complete apparatus to work it out, all the ancestors are gladly forgotten. Most men and most women are merely one couple more. Now and then one has a new cell or camarilla opened in his brain,an architectural, a musical, or a philological knack; some stray taste or talent for flowers, or chemistry, or pigments, or story-telling; a good hand for drawing, a good foot for dancing, an athletic frame for wide journeying, etc.which skill nowise alters rank in the scale of nature, but serves to pass the time; the life of sensation going on as before. At last these hints and tendencies are fixed in one or in a succession. Each absorbs so much food and force as to become itself a new centre. The new talent draws off so rapidly the vital force that not enough remains for the animal functions, hardly enough for health; so that in the second generation, if the like genius appear, the health is visibly deteriorated and the generative force impaired.
People are born with the moral or with the material bias;uterine brothers with this diverging destination; and I suppose, with high magnifiers, Mr. Frauenhofer or Dr. Carpenter might come to distinguish in the embryo, at the fourth day,this is a Whig, and that a Freesoiler.16
It was a poetic attempt to lift this mountain of Fate, to reconcile this despotism of race with liberty, which led the Hindoos to say, Fate is nothing but the deeds committed in a prior state of existence.17 I find the coincidence of the extremes of Eastern and Western speculation in the daring statement of Schelling, There is in every man a certain feeling that he has been what he is from all eternity, and by no means became such in time. To say it less sublimely,in the history of the individual is always an account of his condition, and he knows himself to be a party to his present estate.
A good deal of our politics is physiological. Now and then a man of wealth in the heyday of youth adopts the tenet of broadest freedom. In England there is always some man of wealth and large connection, planting himself, during all his years of health, on the side of progress, who, as soon as he begins to die, checks his forward play, calls in his troops and becomes conservative. All conservatives are such from personal defects. They have been effeminated by position or nature, born halt and blind, through luxury of their parents, and can only, like invalids, act on the defensive. But strong natures, backwoodsmen, New Hampshire giants, Napoleons, Burkes, Broughams, Websters, Kossuths, are inevitable patriots, until their life ebbs and their defects and gout, palsy and money, warp them.
The strongest idea incarnates itself in majorities and nations, in the healthiest and strongest. Probably the election goes by avoirdupois weight, and if you could weigh bodily the tonnage of any hundred of the Whig and the Democratic party in a town on the Dearborn balance, as they passed the hay-scales, you could predict with certainty which party would carry it. On the whole it would be rather the speediest way of deciding the vote, to put the selectmen or the mayor and aldermen at the hay-scales.
In science we have to consider two things: power and circumstance. All we know of the egg, from each successive discovery, is, another vesicle; and if, after five hundred years you get a better observer or a better glass, he finds, within the last observed, another. In vegetable and animal tissue it is just alike, and all that the primary power or spasm operates is still vesicles, vesicles. Yes,but the tyrannical Circumstance! A vesicle in new circumstances, a vesicle lodged in darkness, Oken thought, became animal; in light, a plant.18 Lodged in the parent animal, it suffers changes which end in unsheathing miraculous capability in the unaltered vesicle, and it unlocks itself to fish, bird, or quadruped, head and foot, eye and claw. The Circumstance is Nature.19 Nature is what you may do. There is much you may not. We have two things,the circumstance, and the life. Once we thought positive power was all. Now we learn that negative power, or circumstance, is half. Nature is the tyrannous circumstance, the thick skull, the sheathed snake, the ponderous, rock-like jaw; necessitated activity; violent direction; the conditions of a tool, like the locomotive, strong enough on its track, but which can do nothing but mischief off of it; or skates, which are wings on the ice but fetters on the ground.
The book of Nature is the book of Fate. She turns the gigantic pages,leaf after leaf,never re-turning one. One leaf she lays down, a floor of granite; then a thousand ages, and a bed of slate; a thousand ages, and a measure of coal; a thousand ages, and a layer of marl and mud: vegetable forms appear; her first misshapen animals, zoöphyte, trilobium, fish; then, saurians,rude forms, in which she has only blocked her future statue, concealing under these unwieldy monsters the fine type of her coming king. The face of the planet cools and dries, the races meliorate, and man is born. But when a race has lived its term, it comes no more again.20
The population of the world is a conditional population; not the best, but the best that could live now; and the scale of tribes, and the steadiness with which victory adheres to one tribe and defeat to another, is as uniform as the superposition of strata. We know in history what weight belongs to race. We see the English, French, and Germans planting themselves on every shore and market of America and Australia, and monopolizing the commerce of these countries. We like the nervous and victorious habit of our own branch of the family. We follow the step of the Jew, of the Indian, of the Negro. We see how much will has been expended to extinguish the Jew, in vain. Look at the unpalatable conclusions of Knox, in his Fragment of Races;a rash and unsatisfactory writer, but charged with pungent and unforgetable truths. Nature respects race, and not hybrids. Every race has its own habitat. Detach a colony from the race, and it deteriorates to the crab. See the shades of the picture. The German and Irish millions, like the Negro, have a great deal of guano in their destiny. They are ferried over the Atlantic and carted over America, to ditch and to drudge, to make corn cheap and then to lie down prematurely to make a spot of green grass on the prairie.21
One more fagot of these adamantine bandages is the new science of Statistics. It is a rule that the most casual and extraordinary events, if the basis of population is broad enough, become matter of fixed calculation. It would not be safe to say when a captain like Bonaparte, a singer like Jenny Lind, or a navigator like Bowditch would be born in Boston; but, on a population of twenty or two hundred millions, something like accuracy may be had.22
T is frivolous to fix pedantically the date of particular inventions. They have all been invented over and over fifty times. Man is the arch machine of which all these shifts drawn from himself are toy models. He helps himself on each emergency by copying or duplicating his own structure, just so far as the need is. T is hard to find the right Homer, Zoroaster, or Menu; harder still to find the Tubal Cain, or Vulcan, or Cadmus, or Copernicus, or Fust,23 or Fulton; the indisputable inventor. There are scores and centuries of them. The air is full of men. This kind of talent so abounds, this constructive tool-making efficiency, as if it adhered to the chemic atoms; as if the air he breathes were made of Vaucansons, Franklins, and Watts.
Doubtless in every million there will be an astronomer, a mathematician, a comic poet, a mystic. No one can read the history of astronomy without perceiving that Copernicus, Newton, Laplace, are not new men, or a new kind of men, but that Thales, Anaximenes, Hipparchus, Empedocles, Aristarchus, Pythagoras, nipodes, had anticipated them; each had the same tense geometrical brain, apt for the same vigorous computation and logic; a mind parallel to the movement of the world. The Roman mile probably rested on a measure of a degree of the meridian. Mahometan and Chinese know what we know of leap-year, of the Gregorian calendar, and of the precession of the equinoxes. As in every barrel of cowries brought to New Bedford there shall be one orangia,24 so there will, in a dozen millions of Malays and Mahometans, be one or two astronomical skulls. In a large city, the most casual things, and things whose beauty lies in their casualty, are produced as punctually and to order as the bakers muffin for breakfast. Punch makes exactly one capital joke a week; and the journals contrive to furnish one good piece of news every day.
The force with which we resist these torrents of tendency looks so ridiculously inadequate that it amounts to little more than a criticism or protest made by a minority of one, under compulsion of millions. I seemed in the height of a tempest to see men overboard struggling in the waves, and driven about here and there. They glanced intelligently at each other, but t was little they could do for one another; t was much if each could keep afloat alone. Well, they had a right to their eye-beams, and all the rest was Fate.25
We cannot trifle with this reality, this cropping-out in our planted gardens of the core of the world. No picture of life can have any veracity that does not admit the odious facts. A mans power is hooped in by a necessity which, by many experiments, he touches on every side until he learns its arc.
The element running through entire nature, which we popularly call Fate, is known to us as limitation. Whatever limits us we call Fate. If we are brute and barbarous, the fate takes a brute and dreadful shape. As we refine, our checks become finer. If we rise to spiritual culture, the antagonism takes a spiritual form. In the Hindoo fables, Vishnu follows Maya through all her ascending changes, from insect and crawfish up to elephant; whatever form she took, he took the male form of that kind, until she became at last woman and goddess, and he a man and a god. The limitations refine as the soul purifies, but the ring of necessity is always perched at the top.
When the gods in the Norse heaven were unable to bind the Fenris Wolf26 with steel or with weight of mountains,the one he snapped and the other he spurned with his heel,they put round his foot a limp band softer than silk or cobweb, and this held him; the more he spurned it the stiffer it drew. So soft and so stanch is the ring of Fate. Neither brandy, nor nectar, nor sulphuric ether, nor hell-fire, nor ichor, nor poetry, nor genius, can get rid of this limp band. For if we give it the high sense in which the poets use it, even thought itself is not above Fate; that too must act according to eternal laws, and all that is wilful and fantastic in its is in opposition to its fundamental essence.
And last of all, high over thought, in the world of morals, Fate appears as vindicator, levelling the high, lifting the low, requiring justice in man, and always striking soon or late when justice is not done.27 What is useful will last, what is hurtful will sink. The doer must suffer, said the Greeks; you would soothe a Deity not to be soothed. God himself cannot procure good for the wicked, said the Welsh triad.28 God may consent, but only for a time, said the bard of Spain. The limitation is impassable by any insight of man. In its last and loftiest ascensions, insight itself and the freedom of the will is one of its obedient members. But we must not run into generalizations too large, but show the natural bounds or essential distinctions, and seek to do justice to the other elements as well.
Thus we trace Fate in matter, mind, and morals; in race, in retardations of strata, and in thought and character as well. It is everywhere bound or limitation. But Fate has its lord; limitation its limits,is different seen from above and from below, from within and from without. For though Fate is immense, so is Power, which is the other fact in the dual world, immense. If Fate follows and limits Power, Power attends and antagonizes Fate. We must respect Fate as natural history, but there is more than natural history.29 For who and what is this criticism that pries into the matter? Man is not order of nature, sack and sack, belly and members, link in a chain, nor any ignominious baggage; but a stupendous antagonism, a dragging together of the poles of the Universe. He betrays his relation to what is below him,thick-skulled, small-brained, fishy, quadrumanous, quadruped ill-disguised, hardly escaped into biped,and has paid for the new powers by loss of some of the old ones. But the lightning which explodes and fashions planets, maker of planets and suns, is in him. On one side elemental order, sandstone and granite, rock-ledges, peat-bog, forest, sea and shore; and on the other part thought, the spirit which composes and decomposes nature,here they are, side by side, god and devil, mind and matter, king and conspirator, belt and spasm, riding peacefully together in the eye and brain of every man.
Nor can he blink the freewill. To hazard the contradiction,freedom is necessary. If you please to plant yourself on the side of Fate, and say, Fate is all; then we say, a part of Fate is the freedom of man. Forever wells up the impulse of choosing and acting in the soul. Intellect annuls Fate. So far as a man thinks, he is free.30 And though nothing is more disgusting than the crowing about liberty by slaves, as most men are, and the flippant mistaking for freedom of some paper preamble like a Declaration of Independence or the statute right to vote, by those who have never dared to think or to act,yet it is wholesome to man to look not at Fate, but the other way: the practical view is the other. His sound relation to these facts is to use and command, not to cringe to them. Look not on Nature, for her name is fatal, said the oracle.31 The too much contemplation of these limits induces meanness. They who talk much of destiny, their birth-star, etc., are in a lower dangerous plane, and invite the evils they fear.
I cited the instinctive and heroic races as proud believers in Destiny. They conspire with it; a loving resignation is with the event. But the dogma makes a different impression when it is held by the weak and lazy. T is weak and vicious people who cast the blame on Fate. The right use of Fate is to bring up our conduct to the loftiness of nature. Rude and invincible except by themselves are the elements. So let man be. Let him empty his breast of his windy conceits, and show his lordship by manners and deeds on the scale of nature. Let him hold his purpose as with the tug of gravitation. No power, no persuasion, no bribe shall make him give up his point. A man ought to compare advantageously with a river, an oak, or a mountain.32 He shall have not less the flow, the expansion, and the resistance of these.
T is the best use of Fate to teach a fatal courage. Go face the fire at sea, or the cholera in your friends house, or the burglar in your own, or what danger lies in the way of duty,knowing you are guarded by the cherubim of Destiny. If you believe in Fate to your harm, believe it at least for your good.
For if Fate is so prevailing, man also is part of it, and can confront fate with fate. If the Universe have these savage accidents, our atoms are as savage in resistance. We should be crushed by the atmosphere, but for the reaction of the air within the body. A tube made of a film of glass can resist the shock of the ocean if filled with the same water. If there be omnipotence in the stroke, there is omnipotence of recoil.
1. But Fate against Fate is only parrying and defence: there are also the noble creative forces. The revelation of Thought takes man out of servitude into freedom. We rightly say of ourselves, we were born and afterward we were born again, and many times. We have successive experiences so important that the new forgets the old, and hence the mythology of the seven or the nine heavens. The day of days, the great day of the feast of life, is that in which the inward eye opens to the Unity in things, to the omnipresence of law:sees that what is must be and ought to be, or is the best. This beatitude dips from on high down on us and we see. It is not in us so much as we are in it. If the air come to our lungs, we breathe and live; if not, we die. If the light come to our eyes, we see; else not. And if truth come to our mind we suddenly expand to its dimensions, as if we grew to worlds. We are as lawgivers; we speak for Nature; we prophesy and divine.33
This insight throws us on the party and interest of the Universe, against all and sundry; against ourselves as much as others. A man speaking from insight affirms of himself what is true of the mind: seeing its immortality, he says, I am immortal; seeing its invincibility, he says, I am strong.34 It is not in us, but we are in it. It is of the maker, not of what is made. All things are touched and changed by it. This uses and is not used. It distances those who share it from those who share it not. Those who share it not are flocks and herds. It dates from itself; not from former men or better men, gospel, or constitution, or college, or custom. Where it shines, Nature is no longer intrusive, but all things make a musical or pictorial impression. The world of men show like a comedy without laughter: populations, interests, government, history; t is all toy figures in a toy house. It does not overvalue particular truths. We hear eagerly every thought and word quoted from an intellectual man. But in his presence our own mind is roused to activity, and we forget very fast what he says, much more interested in the new play of our own thought than in any thought of his.35 T is the majesty into which we have suddenly mounted, the impersonality, the scorn of egotisms, the sphere of laws, that engage us. Once we were stepping a little this way and a little that way; now we are as men in a balloon, and do not think so much of the point we have left, or the point we would make, as of the liberty and glory of the way.
Just as much intellect as you add, so much organic power. He who sees through the design, presides over it, and must will that which must be. We sit and rule, and, though we sleep, our dream will come to pass. Our thought, though it were only an hour old, affirms an oldest necessity, not to be separated from thought, and not to be separated from will. They must always have coexisted. It apprises us of its sovereignty and godhead, which refuse to be severed from it. It is not mine or thine, but the will of all mind. It is poured into the souls of all men, as the soul itself which constitutes them men. I know not whether there be, as is alleged, in the upper region of our atmosphere, a permanent westerly current which carries with it all atoms which rise to that height, but I see that when souls reach a certain clearness of perception they accept a knowledge and motive above selfishness. A breath of will blows eternally through the universe of souls in the direction of the Right and Necessary. It is the air which all intellects inhale and exhale, and it is the wind which blows the worlds into order and orbit.
Thought dissolves the material universe by carrying the mind up into a sphere where all is plastic. Of two men, each obeying his own thought, he whose thought is deepest will be the strongest character. Always one man more than another represents the will of Divine Providence to the period.
2. If thought makes free, so does the moral sentiment. The mixtures of spiritual chemistry refuse to be analyzed. Yet we can see that with the perception of truth is joined the desire that it shall prevail; that affection is essential to will.36 Moreover, when a strong will appears, it usually results from a certain unity of organization, as if the whole energy of body and mind flowed in one direction. All great force is real and elemental. There is no manufacturing a strong will. There must be a pound to balance a pound. Where power is shown in will, it must rest on the universal force. Alaric and Bonaparte must believe they rest on a truth, or their will can be bought or bent. There is a bribe possible for any finite will. But the pure sympathy with universal ends is an infinite force, and cannot be bribed or bent. Whoever has had experience of the moral sentiment cannot choose but believe in unlimited power. Each pulse from that heart is an oath from the Most High. I know not what the word sublime means, if it be not the intimations, in this infant, of a terrific force.37 A text of heroism, a name and anecdote of courage, are not arguments but sallies of freedom. One of these is the verse of the Persian Hafiz, T is written on the gate of Heaven, Woe unto him who suffers himself to be betrayed by Fate! Does the reading of history make us fatalists? What courage does not the opposite opinion show! A little whim of will to be free gallantly contending against the universe of chemistry.
But insight is not will, nor is affection will. Perception is cold, and goodness dies in wishes. As Voltaire said, t is the misfortune of worthy people that they are cowards; un des plus grands malheurs des honnêtes gens cest quils sont des lâches. There must be a fusion of these two to generate the energy of will. There can be no driving force except through the conversion of the man into his will, making him the will, and the will him. And one may say boldly that no man has a right perception of any truth who has not been reacted on by it so as to be ready to be its martyr.
The one serious and formidable thing in nature is a will. Society is servile from want of will, and therefore the world wants saviours and religions. One way is right to go; the hero sees it, and moves on that aim, and has the world under him for root and support. He is to others as the world. His approbation is honor; is dissent, infamy. The glance of his eye has the force of sunbeams. A personal influence towers up in memory only worthy, and we gladly forget numbers, money, climate, gravitation, and the rest of Fate.
We can afford to allow the limitation, if we know it is the meter of the growing man. We stand against Fate, as children stand up against the wall in their fathers house and notch their height from year to year. But when the boy grows to man, and is master of the house, he pulls down that wall and builds a new and bigger. T is only a question of time. Every brave youth is in training to ride and rule this dragon. His science is to make weapons and wings of these passions and retarding forces.38 Now whether, seeing these two things, fate and power, we are permitted to believe in unity? The bulk of mankind believe in two gods. They are under one dominion here in the house, as friend and parent, in social circles, in letters, in art, in love, in religion; but in mechanics, in dealing with steam and climate, in trade, in politics, they think they come under another; and that it would be a practical blunder to transfer the method and way of working of one sphere into the other. What good, honest, generous men at home, will be wolves and foxes on Change! What pious men in the parlor will vote for what reprobates at the polls! To a certain point, they believe themselves the care of a Providence. But in a steamboat, in an epidemic, in war, they believe a malignant energy rules.39
But relation and connection are not somewhere and sometimes, but everywhere and always. The divine order does not stop where their sight stops. The friendly power works on the same rules in the next farm and the next planet. But where they have not experience they run against it and hurt themselves. Fate then is a name for facts not yet passed under the fire of thought; for causes which are unpenetrated.
But every jet of chaos which threatens to exterminate us is convertible by intellect into wholesome force. Fate is unpenetrated causes. The water drowns ship and sailor like a grain of dust. But learn to swim, trim your bark, and the wave which drowned it will be cloven by it and carry it like its own foam, a plume and a power.40 The cold is inconsiderate of persons, tingles your blood, freezes a man like a dewdrop. But learn to skate, and the ice will give you a graceful, sweet, and poetic motion. The cold will brace your limbs and brain to genius, and make you foremost men of time. Cold and sea will train an imperial Saxon race, which nature cannot bear to lose, and after cooping it up for a thousand years in yonder England, gives a hundred Englands, a hundred Mexicos. All the bloods it shall absorb and domineer: and more than Mexicos, the secrets of water and steam, the spasms of electricity, the ductility of metals, the chariot of the air, the ruddered balloon are awaiting you.
The annual slaughter from typhus far exceeds that of war; but right drainage destroys typhus. The plague in the sea-service from scurvy is healed by lemon juice and other diets portable or procurable; the depopulation by cholera and small-pox is ended by drainage and vaccination; and every other pest is not less in the chain of cause and effect, and may be fought off. And whilst art draws out the venom, it commonly extorts some benefit from the vanquished enemy. The mischievous torrent is taught to drudge for man; the wild beasts he makes useful for food, or dress, or labor; the chemic explosions are controlled like his watch. These are now the steeds on which he rides. Man moves in all modes, by legs of horses, by wings of wind, by steam, by gas of balloon, by electricity, and stands on tiptoe threatening to hunt the eagle in his own element. There s nothing he will not make his carrier.
Steam was till the other day the devil which we dreaded. Every pot made by any human potter or brazier had a hole in its cover, to let off the enemy, lest he should lift pot and roof and carry the house away. But the Marquis of Worcester,41 Watt, and Fulton bethought themselves that where was power was not devil, but was God; that it must be availed of, and not by any means let off and wasted. Could he lift pots and roofs and houses so handily? He was the workman they were in search of. He could be used to life away, chain and compel other devils far more reluctant and dangerous, namely, cubic miles of earth, mountains, weight or resistance of water, machinery, and the labors of all men in the world; and time he shall lengthen, and shorten space.
It has not fared much otherwise with higher kinds of steam. The opinion of the million was the terror of the world, and it was attempted either to dissipate it, by amusing nations, or to pile it over with strata of society,a layer of soldiers, over that a layer of lords, and a king on the top; with clamps and hoops of castles, garrisons, and police. But sometimes the religious principle would get in and burst the hoops and rive every mountain laid on top of it. The Fultons and Watts of politics, believing in unity, saw that it was a power, and by satisfying it (as justice satisfies everybody), through a different disposition of society,grouping it on a level instead of piling it into a mountain,they have contrived to make of this terror the most harmless and energetic form of a State.
Very odious, I confess, are the lessons of Fate. Who likes to have a dapper phrenologist pronouncing on his fortunes? Who likes to believe that he has, hidden in his skull, spine, and pelvis, all the vices of a Saxon or Celtic race, which will be sure to pull him down,with what grandeur of hope and resolve he is fired,into a selfish, huckstering, servile, dodging animal? A learned physician tells us the fact is invariable with the Neapolitan, that when mature he assumes the forms of the unmistakable scoundrel. That is a little overstated,but may pass.
But these are magazines and arsenals. A man must thank his defects, and stand in some terror of his talents. A transcendent talent draws so largely on his forces as to lame him; a defect pays him revenues on the other side. The sufferance which is the badge of the Jew, has made him, in these days, the ruler of the rulers of the earth. If Fate is ore and quarry, if evil is good in the making, if limitation is power that shall be, if calamities, oppositions, and weights are wings and means,we are reconciled.42
Fate involves the melioration. No statement of the Universe can have any soundness which does not admit its ascending effort. The direction of the whole and of the parts is toward benefit, and in proportion to the health. Behind every individual closes organization; before him opens liberty,the Better, the Best. The first and worse races are dead. The second and imperfect races are dying out, or remain for the maturing of higher. In the latest race, in man, every generosity, every new perception, the love and praise he extorts from his fellows, are certificates of advance out of fate into freedom. Liberation of the will from the sheaths and clogs of organization which he has outgrown, is the end and aim of this world. Every calamity is a spur and valuable hint; and where his endeavors do not yet fully avail, they tell as tendency. The whole circle of animal lifetooth against tooth, devouring war, war for food, a yelp of pain and a grunt of triumph, until at last the whole menagerie, the whole chemical mass is mellowed and refined for higher usepleases at a sufficient perspective.
But to see how fate slides into freedom and freedom into fate, observe how far the roots of every creature run, or find if you can a point where there is no thread of connection. Our life is consentaneous and far-related. This knot of nature is so well tied that nobody was ever cunning enough to find the two ends. Nature is intricate, overlapped, interweaved and endless. Christopher Wren said of the beautiful Kings College chapel,43 that if anybody would tell him where to lay the first stone, he would build such another. But where shall we find the first atom in this house of man, which is all consent, inosculation and balance of parts?
The web of relation is shown in habitat, shown in hibernation. When hibernation was observed, it was found that whilst some animals became torpid in winter, others were torpid in summer: hibernation then was a false name. The long sleep is not an effect of cold, but is regulated by the supply of food proper to the animal. It becomes torpid when the fruit or prey it lives on is not in season, and regains its activity when its food is ready.
Eyes are found in light; ears in auricular air; feet on land; fins in water; wings in air; and each creature where it was meant to be, with a mutual fitness. Every zone has its own Fauna. There is adjustment between the animal and its food, its parasite, its enemy. Balances are kept. It is not allowed to diminish in numbers, nor to exceed. The like adjustments exist for man. His food is cooked when he arrives; his coal in the pit; the house ventilated; the mud of the deluge dried; his companions arrived at the same hour, and awaiting him with love, concert, laughter and tears. These are coarse adjustments, but the invisible are not less. There are more belongings to every creature than his air and his food. His instincts must be met, and he has predisposing power that bends and fits what is near him to his use. He is not possible until the invisible things are right for him, as well as the visible. Of what changes then in sky and earth, and in finer skies and earths, does the appearance of some Dante or Columbus apprise us!44
How is this effected? Nature is no spendthrift, but takes the shortest way to her ends. As the general says to his soldiers, If you want a fort, build a fort, so nature makes every creature do its own work and get its living,is it planet, animal or tree. The planet makes itself. The animal cell makes itself;then, what it wants. Every creature, wren or dragon, shall make its own lair. As soon as there is life, there is self-direction and absorbing and using of material. Life is freedom,life in the direct ratio of its amount. You may be sure the new-born man is not inert. Life works both voluntarily and supernaturally in its neighborhood. Do you suppose he can be estimated by his weight in pounds, or that he is contained in his skin,this reaching, radiating, jaculating fellow? The smallest candle fills a mile with its rays, and the papillæ of a man run out to every star.
When there is something to be done, the world knows how to get it done. The vegetable eye makes leaf, pericarp, root, bark, or thorn, as the need is; the first cell converts itself into stomach, mouth, nose, or nail, according to the want; the world throws its life into a hero or a shepherd, and puts him where he is wanted. Dante and Columbus were Italians, in their time; they would be Russians or Americans to-day. Things ripen, new men come. The adaptation is not capricious. The ulterior aim, the purpose beyond itself, the correlation by which planets subside and crystallize, then animate beasts and men,will not stop but will work into finer particulars, and from finer to finest.
The secret of the world is the tie between person and event. Person makes event, and event person. The times, the age, what is that but a few profound persons and a few active persons who epitomize the times?Goethe, Hegel, Metternich, Adams, Calhoun, Guizot, Peel, Cobden, Kossuth, Rothschild, Astor, Brunel, and the rest. The same fitness must be presumed between a man and the time and event, as between the sexes, or between a race of animals and the food it eats, or the inferior races it uses. He thinks his fate alien, because the copula is hidden. But the soul contains the event that shall befall it; for the event is only the actualization of its thoughts, and what we pray to ourselves for is always granted.45 The event is the print of your form. It fits you like your skin. What each does is proper to him. Events are the children of his body and mind. We learn that the soul of Fate is the soul of us, as Hafiz sings,
Alas! till now I had not known,
My guide and fortunes guide are one.
All the toys that infatuate men and which they play for,houses, land, money, luxury, power, fame, are the selfsame thing, with a new gauze or two of illusion overlaid. And of all the drums and rattles by which men are made willing to have their heads broke, and are led out solemnly every morning to parade,the most admirable is this by which we are brought to believe that events are arbitrary and independent of actions. At the conjurors, we detect the hair by which he moves his puppet, but we have not eyes sharp enough to descry the thread that ties cause and effect.
Nature magically suits the man to his fortunes, by making these the fruit of his character. Ducks take to the water, eagles to the sky, waders to the sea margin, hunters to the forest, clerks to counting-rooms, soldiers to the frontier. Thus events grow on the same stem with persons; are sub-persons. The pleasure of life is according to the man that lives it, and not according to the work or the place. Life is an ecstasy. We know what madness belongs to love,what power to paint a vile object in hues of heaven. As insane persons are indifferent to their dress, diet, and other accommodations, and as we do in dreams, with equanimity, the most absurd acts, so a drop more of wine in our cup of life will reconcile us to strange company and work. Each creature puts forth from itself its own condition and sphere, as the slug sweats out its slimy house on the pear-leaf, and the woolly aphides on the apple perspire their own bed, and the fish its shell. In youth we clothe ourselves with rainbows and go as brave as the zodiac. In age we put out another sort of perspiration,gout, fever, rheumatism, caprice, doubt, fretting and avarice.
A mans fortunes are the fruit of his character. A mans friends are his magnetisms.46 We go to Herodotus and Plutarch for examples of Fate; but we are examples. Quisque suos patimur manes.47 The tendency of every man to enact all that is in his constitution is expressed in the old belief that the efforts which we make to escape from our destiny only serve to lead us into it: and I have noticed a man likes better to be complimented on his position, as the proof of the last or total excellence, than on his merits.
A man will see his character emitted in the events that seem to meet, but which exude from and accompany him. Events expand with the character. As once he found himself among toys, so now he plays a part in colossal systems, and his growth is declared in his ambition, his companions and his performance. He looks like a piece of luck, but is a piece of causation; the mosaic, angulated and ground to fit into the gap he fills. Hence in each town there is some man who is, in his brain and performance, an explanation of the tillage, production, factories, banks, churches, ways of living and society of that town. If you do not chance to meet him, all that you see will leave you a little puzzled; if you see him it will become plain. We know in Massachusetts who built New Bedford, who built Lynn, Lowell, Lawrence, Clinton, Fitchburg, Holyoke, Portland, and many another noisy mart.48 Each of these men, if they were transparent, would seem to you not so much men as walking cities, and wherever you put them they would build one.
History is the action and reaction of these two,Nature and Thought; two boys pushing each other on the curbstone of the pavement. Everything is pusher or pushed; and matter and mind are in perpetual tilt and balance, so. Whilst the man is weak, the earth takes up him. He plants his brain and affections. By and by he will take up the earth, and have his gardens and vineyards in the beautiful order and productiveness of his thought. Every solid in the universe is ready to become fluid on the approach of the mind, and the power to flux it is the measure of the mind.49 If the wall remain adamant, it accuses the want of thought. To a subtle force it will stream into new forms, expressive of the character of the mind. What is the city in which we sit here, but an aggregate of incongruous materials which have obeyed the will of some man?50 The granite was reluctant, but his hands were stronger, and it came. Iron was deep in the ground and well combined with stone, but could not hide from his fires. Wood, lime, stuffs, fruits, gums, were dispersed over the earth and sea, in vain. Here they are, within reach of every mans day-labor,what he wants of them. The whole world is the flux of matter over the wires of thought to the poles or points where it would build. The races of men rise out of the ground preoccupied with a thought which rules them, and divided into parties ready armed and angry to fight for this metaphysical abstraction. The quality of the thought differences the Egyptian and the Roman, the Austrian and the American. The men who come on the stage at one period are all found to be related to each other. Certain ideas are in the air. We are all impressionable, for we are made of them; all impressionable, but some more than others, and these first express them. This explains the curious contemporaneousness of inventions and discoveries. The truth is in the air, and the most impressionable brain will announce it first, but all will announce it a few minutes later. So women, as most susceptible, are the best index of the coming hour.51 So the great man, that is, the man most imbued with the spirit of the time, is the impressionable man;of a fibre irritable and delicate, like iodine to light. He feels the infinitesimal attractions. His mind is righter than others because he yields to a current so feeble as can be felt only by a needle delicately poised.52
The correlation is shown in defects. Möller, in his Essay on Architecture, taught that the building which was fitted accurately to answer its end would turn out to be beautiful though beauty had not been intended. I find the like unity in human structures rather virulent and pervasive; that a crudity in the blood will appear in the argument; a hump in the shoulder will appear in the speech and handiwork. If his mind could be seen, the hump would be seen. If a man has a see-saw in his voice, it will run into his sentences, into his poem, into the structure of his fable, into his speculation, into his charity. And as every man is hunted by his own dæmon, vexed by his own disease, this checks all his activity.53
So each man, like each plant, has his parasites. A strong, astringent, bilious nature has more truculent enemies than the slugs and moths that fret my leaves. Such an one has curculios, borers, knife-worms; a swindler ate him first, then a client, then a quack, then smooth, plausible gentlemen, bitter and selfish as Moloch.
Some people are made up of rhyme, coincidence, omen, periodicity, and presage: they meet the person they seek; what their companion prepares to say to them, they first say to him; and a hundred signs apprise them of what is about to befall.55
Wonderful intricacy in the web, wonderful constancy in the design this vagabond life admits. We wonder how the fly finds its mate, and yet year after year, we find two men, two women, without legal or carnal tie, spend a great part of their best time within a few feet of each other. And the moral is that what we seek we shall find; what we flee from flees from us; as Goethe said, what we wish for in youth, comes in heaps on us in old age, too often cursed with the granting of our prayer: and hence the high caution, that since we are sure of having what we wish, we beware to ask only for high things.
One key, one solution to the mysteries of human condition, one solution to the old knots of fate, freedom, and foreknowledge, exists; the propounding, namely, of the double consciousness. A man must ride alternately on the horses of his private and his public nature, as the equestrians in the circus throw themselves nimbly from horse to horse, or plant one foot on the back of one and the other foot on the back of the other.56 So when a man is the victim of his fate, has sciatica in his loins and cramp in his mind; a club-foot and a club in his wit; a sour face and a selfish temper; a strut in his gait and a conceit in his affection; or is ground to powder by the vice of his race;he is to rally on his relation to the Universe, which his ruin benefits. Leaving the dæmon who suffers, he is to take sides with the Deity who secures universal benefit by his pain.
To offset the drag of temperament and race, which pulls down, learn this lesson, namely, that by the cunning co-presence of two elements, which is throughout nature, whatever lames or paralyzes you draws in with it the divinity, in some form, to repay. A good intention clothes itself with sudden power. When a god wishes to ride, any chip or pebble will bud and shoot out winged feet and serve him for a horse.57
Let us build altars to the Blessed Unity which holds nature and souls in perfect solution, and compels every atom to serve an universal end. I do not wonder at a snow-flake, a shell, a summer landscape, or the glory of the stars; but at the necessity of beauty under which the universe lies; that all is and must be pictorial; that the rainbow and the curve of the horizon and the arch of the blue vault are only results from the organism of the eye.58 There is no need for foolish amateurs to fetch me to admire a garden of flowers, or a sun-gilt cloud, or a waterfall, when I cannot look without seeing splendor and grace. How idle to choose a random sparkle here or there, when the indwelling necessity plants the rose of beauty on the brow of chaos, and discloses the central intention of Nature to be harmony and joy.
Let us build altars to the Beautiful Necessity.59 If we thought men were free in the sense that in a single exception one fantastical will could prevail over the law of things, it were all one as if a childs hand could pull down the sun. If in the least particular one could derange the order of nature,who would accept the gift of life?
Let us build altars to the Beautiful Necessity, which secures that all is made of one piece; that plaintiff and defendant, friend and enemy, animal and planet, food and eater are of one kind. In astronomy is vast space but no foreign system; in geology, vast time but the same laws as to-day. Why should we be afraid of Nature, which is no other than philosophy and theology embodied? Why should we fear to be crushed by savage elements, we who are made up of the same elements? Let us build to the Beautiful Necessity, which makes man brave in believing that he cannot shun a danger that is appointed, nor incur one that is not; to the Necessity which rudely or softly educates him to the perception that there are no contingencies; that Law rules throughout existence; a Law which is not intelligent but intelligence;not personal nor impersonalit disdains words and passes understanding; it dissolves persons; it vivifies nature; yet solicits the pure in heart to draw on all its omnipotence.60
Note 1. A fuller form of the motto, without the last four lines, which are rather explanatory than poetical, may be found in the Appendix to the Poems among the Fragments on The Poet. [back]
Note 2. The opening pages of the new journal after Mr. Emerson reached his home, in the summer of 1848, after nine months stay in England, seem to reflect the sense of joyful relief he found in his country, the growing, uncommitted and unbound,even half-tamed America. In spite of hospitality and kind reception, he had found the brave and truth-speaking English not as open as his countrymen to ideas, to inspiration. He had written, Alas! the halls of England are musty; the land is full of coal-smoke and carpet-smell: not a breath of mountain air dilates the languishing lungs . English and Europeans are girded with an iron belt of condition. So, on the clean fly-leaf of the new journal he wrote two fragments of verse for omens: the first from the noble poem Inspiration of Henry Thoreau, who, like a younger brother, had manned the wall of his castle during his absence:
I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before,
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learnings lore.
Below these lines he wrote the verses of Horace:
Hunc solem et stellas et decedentia certis
Tempora momentis, sunt qui formidine nulla
(Epistolæ, I. 6. 34.)
I think that he was pleased by the possibility of construing these words, taken by themselves, in opposite significance, oracle-like; either in obvious praise of the constant man whom nature cannot alarm, or in dispraise of the hopeless spirit destitute of wonder and awe. He has now, in lecturing, his own people to deal with, not persons of quality, or English men of letters, and so in one of the early pages is written the story of Edmund Keans remark when they told him that the boxes applauded: The boxes! a fig for the boxes! I tell you the Pit rose to me. Cheered by the sight of the spreading, thriving States with their hopeful vigor, and promise to all poor and oppressed European peoples, he wrote: America is England seen under a magnifying glass. There can be no famine, no want that cant be supplied, no danger from any excess of European importation of art or learning into a country of such excessive native strength, such immense digestive power. We read without pain what the English say to the advantage of England, for are we not the heir? Percy is but the factor, good my lord. And really what amount of petulant English criticism in journals and pamphlets can offset the eulogy of the swarming annual emigration from the British Isles into the United States? Once more at the town-meeting, the evolution of which in early New England, and its importance, he had shown in his Historical Address at Concord in 1835, he was pleased to see how well the Concord farmers, tradesmen and few professional men managed their affairs. The American town is the unit of the Republic, as the leaf is of botany, or one vertebra is of the skeleton. He had full faith in the American idea, and wrote: I wish to cast out the passion for Europe by the passion for America. But the impatience, whether in letters or in arts, the makeshifts and superficiality disturbed him. Our people do not get ripened, but, like peaches and grapes of this season, want a fortnight more of sun, and remain crude. In denser-peopled countries more caloric is generated. Then the question occurred, Does great territory make men diminutive? The providing means of living now absorbs them, to the exclusion of the ends. Nothing but the brandy of politics will wake them from brute life. No song of any Muse will they hear. But the adult education must be urged. The education shall not stop with youth, but shall be as vigorously continued into maturity. Proctors we must have to drive the old fellows to school. The Commonwealth shall set its Horace Manns on applying the searching culture suggested in the Republic to adults, and so keep them up. The idealists of the previous decade seemed to have but faintly leavened the lump, for Anglo-Saxondom was in the air, had won from Mexico a vast area of old Spanish territory between the Gulf and the Pacific, and was casting its audacious eyes upon Cuba and the Isthmus. Our country, right or wrong, was becoming a watch-word which found supporters in the North. This extending the area of Freedom was serving the purpose of extending that of slavery for the black man, and of political power for his master. Against the strong and masterful men who were winning point after point in Congress for their political supremacy and its unhallowed institution, the Northern men of conscience counted on Daniel Webster and Charles Sumner as their champions of Freedom. In 1850, Webster, the idol of New England, startled his people by deliberately advising them to conquer their prejudices and support the Fugitive-Slave Bill. A few years later, after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, their incorruptible Sumner, still fighting against the aggressions of slavery, was struck down in his seat and long disabled by a member of Congress from South Carolina. The outrages of the Border Ruffians in Kansas, countenanced to a great degree by the administration at Washington, startled the North. Mr. Emerson had come home with love for his country and faith in her. But each succeeding year brought a new disgrace to that Republic which should guide mankind. Slavery, which, when he wrote the Ode Inscribed to W. H. Channing, had seemed an evil, but remote and local, now lay like a weight upon him when he woke in the morning,any day the law of his country might require of him, not only to deny a refuge or a couch to the hunted slave, but himself to join in the hunt. The reception of this law by the country, he said, showed that our prosperity had hurt us, that we could not be shocked by crime, that the old religion and the sense of right had faded and gone out: that, while we reckoned ourselves a highly cultivated nation, our bellies had run away with our brains, and the principles of culture and progress did not exist [The Fugitive-Slave Law, 1855, Miscellanies]. This was an outcry of shame and dismay, but he never despaired of the Republic, and at the important moments he failed not to speak with all the fire and eloquence that was in him against the blot of shame that lay upon his country. He went to the anti-slavery meetings in Boston and New York, and constantly to those held in his own village. Out of means at that time straitened, he gave most liberally in help of the Free-State cause in Kansas. John Brown was his guest on at least one of the occasions of his visiting Concord. One of the most interesting of Mr. Emersons manuscript books is that which is called Liberty, in which he gathered, with wide research, opinions of eminent jurists, sayings of statesmen and patriots, and anecdotes, all relating to the history of Liberty, on which he seems to have contemplated writing a paper. In the year in which The Conduct of Life was published, at last the awakened conscience of the country chose Lincoln as President. But in the darkest days before this dawn Emerson wrote: Journal, 1857. The politics of Massachusetts are cowardly. O for a Roman breath, and the courage that advances and dictates! When we get an advantage, as in Congress the other day, it is because our adversary has made a fault, and not that we have made a thrust. Why do we not say, We are abolitionists of the most absolute abolition, as every man that is a man must be? Only the Hottentots, only the barbarous or semi-barbarous societies are not. We do not try to alter your laws in Alabama, nor yours in Japan, or the Feejee Islands; but we do not admit them or permit a trace of them here. Nor shall we suffer you to carry your Thuggism north, south, east or west into a single rod of territory which we control. We intend to set and keep a cordon sanitaire all around the infected district, and by no means suffer the pestilence to spread. It is impossible to be a gentleman, and not be an abolitionist. For a gentle man is one who is fulfilled with all nobleness and imparts it; is the natural defender and raiser of the weak and oppressed; like the Cid. Throughout that struggle Mr. Emerson was mindful of the value of calmness, and the power of the great laws, if not polemically stated. Such were the times in which he not only prepared for the press the collection Nature, Addresses and Lectures and his Representative Men, both written before, and finished English Traits, but was reading lectures near home and far abroad in the new States. He gave not only the observations and thoughts on England and France, but also new lectures on the Conduct of Life, which, thus tested, and refined thereafter, were gathered in this volume. Much of the matter in them was of earlier date, for the course of six lectures by that name were first delivered in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, in March, 1851, and later given in Boston, and far and wide in lyceums. These trips in the dead of winter, extending yearly into the raw country not far behind the advancing western frontier, on half-built railroads, or canal-boats and untrustworthy steamboats, when ice permitted (he thrice crossed the Mississippi on foot, and once among the grinding ice-cakes in a rowboat), involving long drives over prairie to make connections for lectures almost every night, and the harboring in rudest tavernswere borne for about twenty years with cheerful courage. In Mr. Cabots memoir may be found some fragments of these rude experiences as told in Mr. Emersons letters. Mr. Emerson slighted the discomforts and suffering, only alluding to them briefly and humorously, pardoned the squalor, and admired the courage and vigor and keen wits of the people; indeed, in a sense, sat at their feet as a learner, while he taught them the significance of their lives in simple but high speech, with anecdotes, which, if nothing else, might stick by them and act as a ferment. Valuing for what it was worth the great material achievement of his countrymen, he wrote in his journal at a little later period: Machinery is good, but mother-wit is better. Telegraph, steam, and balloon and newspapers are like spectacles on the nose of age, but we will give them all gladly to have back again our young eyes. He must recall their morning dreams to young Americans, dazzled by the shining gold of California or distracted by the manifold projects of developing their vast country. Beside the important events and the crisis in American politics, in the twelve years between the time of Mr. Emersons return from England and the publication of The Conduct of Life, the following events had happened in his life: In 1849, the formation of the Town and Country Club in Boston, not of long duration. In March, 1850, the sad shipwreck, within sight of her native shores, of his friend Margaret Fuller, now the Countess d Ossoli, with her husband and infant child. Mr. Emerson, with two other friends, William Henry Channing and James Freeman Clarke, wrote her memoir. In May, 1852, the Hungarian patriot, Louis Kossuth, was received and spoke in Concord, Mr. Emerson introducing him. In the last months of the following year the loved and honored mother of Mr. Emerson died in his house. In the spring of 1857 he was present at a small meeting of friends to which The Atlantic Monthly owed its origin, under the editorship of Lowell. The Saturday Club originated about the same time, giving Mr. Emerson an opportunity he highly prized of meeting once a month his friends and many of the best citizens of the Republic. In the following August he passed the happy fortnight, which he has celebrated in his verse, in the primeval forest of the Adirondac Mountains, with Agassiz, Lowell, Jeffries Wyman, William J. Stillman, Judge Hoar, John Holmes and others of his friends. On the 25th of January, 1859, at the centennial anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, he made a short address which seems to have been one of the most effective speeches that he ever made, long remembered by those who heard it; and on the 2d of December, at the hour of the execution of John Brown, Mr. Emerson was among those who spoke to the small number of people who gathered in the Concord Town Hall to show respect to the heroic efforts of the old hero on behalf of the bondsmen. The Conduct of Life. was well received, yet not without protest, and sold rapidly. Mr. George W. Cooke in his Life of Emerson [Ralph Waldo Emerson, his Life, Writings and Philosophy. Boston: J. R. Osgood & Co., 1881.] mentions that a writer in The New Englander criticised the utter shallowness and flippancy of the judgments Emerson expresses concerning Christianity. The London Saturday Review thus commented: That an American audience likes to hear the dreariest of all dreary platitudes when they are strung together in what is called an oration is a fact attested by credible proof, and must be believed, like any other strange circumstance that rests on that authority. That, being in that state of mind, mystical language should please them is what experience would suggest, if, indeed, experience applies to people who like orations. It is inconceivable that Mr. Emerson should have any claims to any higher reputation than this. But his writing still seemed to give pleasure to his friend in England, for Carlyle wrote of The Conduct of Life in January, 1861: I read it a great while ago, with a satisfaction given me by the Books of no other living mortal. I predicted to your English Bookseller a great sale even, reckoning it the best of all your Books . You have grown older, more pungent, piercing:I never read from you before such lightning-gleams of meaning as are to be found here. The finale of all, that of Illusions falling on us like snow-showers, but again of the gods sitting steadfast on their thrones all the while,what a Fiat Lux is there, into the deeps of a philosophy, which the vulgar has not, which hardly three men living have, yet dreamt of! Well done, I say; and so let that matter rest. Although the course on the Conduct of Life was read in 1851, the following passage from a letter to Carlyle, two years later, shows that Mr. Emerson was still working on Fate.
CONCORD, 19 APRIL, 1853.
What had I, dear wise man, to tell you? What, but that life was still tolerable; still absurdly sweet; still promising, promising, to credulous idleness;but step of mine taken in a true direction, or clear solution of any the least secret,none whatever. I scribble always a little,much less than formerly,and I did within a year or eighteen months write a chapter on Fate, whichif we all live long enough, that is, you, and I, and the chapterI hope to send you in fair print. Comfort yourselfas you willyou will survive the reading, and will be a sure proof that the nut is not cracked. For when we find out what Fate is, I suppose, the Sphinx and we are done for; and Sphinx, dipus, and world ought, by good rights, to roll down the steep into the sea . [back]
Note 3. A book called The Spirit of the Age, by William Hazlitt (senior), was published in 1825; A New Spirit of the Age, by R. H. Horne, in 1841. [back]
Note 4. In a letter to Miss Margaret Fuller, written in 1841, this sentence occurs: Gray clouds, short days, moonless nights, a drowsy sense of being dragged easily somewhere by that locomotive Destiny,which, never seen, we yet know must be hitched on to the cars wherein we sit;that is all that appears in these November days. [back]
Note 5. From a Persian distich by Ali ben Abu Taleb, through the German of Von Hammer Purgstall, rendered thus into English by Mr. Emerson. It is found among the translations in his Poems. [back]
Note 6. Because so many persons find the English of Chaucer so difficult, Mr. Emerson chose to make several modifications in the spelling to make the verses clear, some of which changes it seemed best to preserve. The passage may be found in the latter part of The Knights Tale. [back]
Note 7. Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling, a German mystic and theosophist, an acquaintance interesting to Goethe, who describes his character in his Autobiography. It seems probable that Mr. Emerson by mistake wrote Robert for William Huntington. The first was a bishop and Orientalist in the seventeenth century. The latter was an eccentric popular preacher in the eighteenth century, who believed in his own inspiration and also in the direct interposition of God in the affairs of his daily life. [back]
Note 8. In the notebook is a quotation from Saadi: The angel who presides over the store-house of the winds, feels no compunction, though he extinguish the old womans lamp. In the Appendix to the Poems are some neat little verses about Water, ending,
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
The poet in The Titmouse describes the quiet over-powering onset of Arctic cold to which philosophy is resigning him until the chickadee incites brave resistance. [back]
Note 9. Journal, 1852. History is zoölogy and not a chapter of accidents. 1851. There is a thick skull; that is fate. The crustacea, the birds, the tortoises are fatalists, yet amelioration must be assumed; their very walls and jails must be believed to be charity and protection; and meanness the preparation of magnificence: as madness is assumed to be the screen of the too much tempted soul. [back]
Note 10. Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (17761832), the disciple and associate of Gall in expounding the doctrines of phrenology. He lectured in Boston in 1832, where Mr. Emerson probably heard him. Spurzheim died there in the autumn of that year. Lambert Adolphe Jaques Quetelet (17961874), the Belgian statistician who wrote several remarkable treatises on social and moral as well as vital and political statistics. Among them were those Sur le théorie des probabilités appliquées aux sciences morales et politiques (1846) and Sur la statistique morale et des lois qui le régissent (1848). I remember Mr. Emersons saying somewhat sadly of a spirited schoolboy of good blood, But he has the hopeless adust complexion, and the subsequent history of the man, of generous traits but cursed by a passionate temperament, justified this foreboding. [back]
Note 12. This theme is handled with characteristic delicacy and charm by Dr. Holmes in his story The Guardian Angel. [back]
Note 13. Conversely, the vigorous preacher to the Universalist Society in Concord at about this time resigned when his salary was reduced, and in his parting sermon told his flock that they could not have broadcloth at ninepence a yard, and went into the manufacture of gunpowder. [back]
Note 14. This sentence, used elsewhere in the Essays, is a quotation from one of the Oriental writers. Mr. Emerson introduced it into the quatrain Horoscope in the Poems. [back]
Note 15. The saying of King James I. is noted in one of the journals: Oh ay, I can make him a lord, but I canna make him a gentleman. [back]
Note 16. Joseph von Frauenhofer, the German astronomer, was a remarkable optician, and Dr. William B. Carpenter had newly published his work on The Microscope, its Revelations and Uses. The attention of Dr. Holmes was evidently more attracted by the presentation, in the first part of this essay, of the apparent irresistibility of Fate, and did not follow to the hopeful correction of this in the power and triumph of effort which is shown later in this essay and in The Tragic, in Natural History of Intellect. For he comments thus in his biography: Emerson cautions his reader against the danger of the doctrines which he believed in so fully: They who talk much of destiny, their birth-star, etc., are in a lower, dangerous plane, and invite the evils they fear. But certainly no physiologist, no cattle-breeder, no Calvinistic predestinarian could put his view more vigorously than Emerson, who dearly loves a picturesque statement, has given it in these words, which have a dash of science, a flash of imagination, and a hint of the delicate wit that is one of his characteristics:and he then quotes in full the passage of the detection by microscope of the Free-Soiler in embryo. [back]
Note 17. Mr. Emersons favorite lines in the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher were those in the epilogue to The Honest Mans Fortune, which he printed in his collection Parnassus, especially these:
Note 18. Lorenz Oken of Würtemberg, in 1805, in a work called Die Zeugung, brought forward the theory that all organisms, whether vegetable or animal, came from cells, or vesicles, as he called them. Oken was also one of the discoverers of the vertebral relations of the skull. [back]
Note 19. On every side is an ambush laid by the robber troops of circumstance. Hence it is that the horseman of life urges on his courser at headlong speed.Hafiz. [back]
Note 20. This paragraph is the prose version of the Song of Nature in the Poems. [back]
Note 21. The iron aspects of Destiny are hinted at in the Ode, inscribed to W. H. Channing, in which the influence of the recent reading of Knoxs Races of Men seems to appear. [back]
Note 22. Everything which pertains to the human species, considered as a whole, belongs to the order of physical facts. The greater the number of individuals, the more does the influence of the individual will disappear, leaving predominance to a series of general facts dependent on causes by which society exists and is preserved.Quetelet. [back]
Note 23. Johann Fust of Mainz, the associate of Gutenberg and Schöffer in the development of printing, in the first half of the fifteenth century. [back]
Note 24. These beautifully mottled, smooth shells used to be brought by returning American vessels from Asiatic shores and the South Sea islands. The islanders valued them for adornment, and some kinds served them for money. The orange cowry used to be worn by chiefs in the Friendly Islands. [back]
Note 25. Thus he states so strongly the seemingly overwhelming might of Fate that some readers, like Dr. Holmes, hardly recover from the effect of the presentation of this aspect, to see how he brings forward the counterpoise in man; as Byron says of Fate in his Prometheus,
To which his spirit may oppose
Itself, an equal to all woes.
Elsewhere Mr. Emerson shows how he counts the force of the minority of one that looks so slight in this paragraph. In many places in his manuscript and books he celebrates this might, symbolized in physics by the thread of water in a tube, which can balance the ocean. He tells of the founders of religions, then sees in politics the importance of minorities of one, as of Phocion, Cato, Lafayette, Carnot; silent minorities of one also,Thoreau, Very, Newcomb, Alcott. For the power is after reality, not after appearance. The same idea appears in Considerations by the Way in this volume, and in Progress of Culture in Letters and Social Aims. [back]
Note 26. The Fenris Wolf, one of the evil brood of Loki, in the Norse mythology, after having burst the other bonds, was shamed into allowing himself to be bound by a soft bond which he found himself unable to break, but he was constantly fretting it, and, when it broke, he would devour the sun. In that Day of Doom the Gods, helped by the heroes, must fight against the powers of Darkness until the New Day should come. [back]
Note 28. The poetry, religion and laws of the ancient Welsh people were preserved by the bards in three-fold groups called Triads. [back]
Note 29. Here he was offsetting spirit against matter. Yet the new science which taught the striving of the lowest creature against environing difficulties, and ascent in the scale towards man, at once commanded his attention. This he celebrated in his verse and prose before many naturalists admitted it. Now, the Evolution doctrine recognizes Effort for one of its most important factors, and chronicles its triumphs over adverse forces. [back]
Note 30. Journal, 1851. The intellect conquers Fate,and it is the property of men of insight to be serene. Him whose insight is highest, the poet, Mr. Emerson defines as the liberator. Journal. Fate needs extended eyes,draw out the tubes of your telescope to the point of largest visionto see it. Fatalism the right formula to be holden; but by a clever person who knows to allow the living instinct. For though that force be infinitesimal against the universal chemistry, it is of that sublimity that it homopathically doses the system. [back]
Note 31. This is one of the Chaldæan oracles ascribed to Zoroaster. [back]
Mr. Emerson once said of his friend Thoreau, One would as soon think of taking the arm of an oak-tree as Henrys. [back]
Note 33. A passage of some length from the journal, from which this paragraph is condensed, is given in the last note to this essay. [back]
Note 34. The almost certain misconstruction of this announcement by the multitude on a lower plane has caused the persecution or martyrdom of the greatest souls through the centuries. In The Method of Nature Mr. Emerson wrote, Empedocles undoubtedly spoke a truth of thought when he said I am God, but the moment it was out of his mouth it became a lie to the ear, and the world revenged itself for the seeming arrogance by the good story about his shoe. One of the sentences below, Mr. Emerson has rendered into verse thus:
Note 35. Mr. Emerson used not only books but men for lustres. It is remarkable how little is recorded of his company in his journals, beyond some observation or habit of thought or manner of some one of them which calls out the comment or the train of thought which he writes down. [back]
Note 36. In the last pages of Success in Society and Solitude, and of Natural History of Intellect in the volume of that name, on the text Quantus amor, tantus animus, he shows the power of Love against Fate; also in the poem Cupido and quatrain Love. [back]
Note 37. Everywhere, as well as in the essay of that name, he teaches the sovereignty of ethics. He writes in his journal: Behold these sacred persons, born of the old simple blood, to whom rectitude is native. See them,white silver amidst the bronze population,one, two, three, four, five, six,I know not how many more, but conspicuous as fire in the night. Each of them can do some deed of the Impossible. [back]
Note 38. In the notebook on Fate he classes opposing circumstances as Horses: They are all horses on which he rides. The material of freedom consists of necessities. Of higher breed, of diviner race, are ever the steeds of the soul. The oyster hardly moves; the worm crawls; the quadruped walks; man moves on all modes, by legs of horses, by wings of wind, by steam, by gas of balloon, by electricity; and stands already on tip-toe threatening to hunt the eagle in his own element. There is nothing he will not make his footman. [back]
Note 39. Mr. Emerson used to tell the story of two bishops who at the worst of the hurricane asked the captain if there was any hope. At his answer, None but in God, they turned pale, and one said to the other, And has it come to that! [back]
Note 40. This image is taken from Thierrys History of the Norman Conquest of England. Mr. Emerson thus versified it in the quatrain Northman:
The gale that wrecked you on the sand,
It helped my rowers to row;
The storm is my best galley-hand
And drives me where I go.
The sentences below suggest a passage in the Woodnotes, II., in the Poems. [back]
Note 41. Edward Somerset, Marquis of Worcester (160167), the devoted adherent of Charles I. and lord of Raglan Castle, was a remarkable experimenter, and wrote an account of his Century of Inventions, among which was the use of the power of steam, concerning which he wrote An Exact and True Definition of the Most Stupendous Water-commanding Engine. [back]
Note 42. Compare the Spiritual Laws in the Poems. Heaven is pictured as
Note 43. This chapel has been called the glory of Kings College and of Cambridge University. Freeman says it is the grandest building in the late Perpendicular style, and in spite of the beauty of the windows and the fan-tracery roof the design is as bold and simple as a Greek temple. [back]
Note 45. Here recurs the theme of Mr. Emersons first sermon suggested to him by his Methodist fellow laborer in his uncles hay-field,Men are always praying, and their prayers are granted; therefore beware for what you pray. His verse also comes to mind:
And though thy knees were never bent,
To Heaven thy hourly prayers are sent,
And whether formed for good or ill
Are registered and answered still.
Prayer, Poems, Appendix.
In the journal of 1851, after the death of Margaret Fuller with her husband and child, the relation of events to persons, less easy to see in that case, is thus mentioned: It fitted exactly,that shipwreck, thought Ellery [Channing], to the life and genius of the person. T was like Socrates poison, or Christs Cross, or Shelleys death. [back]
Note 48. The following names are celebrated in this connection in the journal: Mr. Erastus Bigelow, Mr. McElrath, Mr. Lawrence, Mr. Crocker, Mr. Vanderbilt, the old Rotch and Rodman, Jackson, and Lowell, the Dwights at Springfield, Mr. Mills, Mr. Forbes, are each a walking city, and wherever you put them, will build one. [back]
is described in the motto to Culture, in the Poems, in language like that of this paragraph. [back]
Note 53. In the summer of 1859, Mr. Emerson sprained his ankle badly on Wachusett Mountain, and was disabled and on crutches all through the summer, his arm also suffering from pressure of his crutch, and his health from indoor confinement. Various misfortunes occurred on the farm during the summer, all sorts of unusual demands came upon him, and to cap the climax his publishers failed; yet he bore all with courage and only allowed his depression to come out in humorous allusions to himself as Mr. Crump with the sprained ankle, who presently will have it that nature and the universe have sprained theirs also. [back]
Note 59. Mr. Emerson said that the law should always be stated with that scope for ascension which the nature of things requires, and it is interesting to see that, true to his faith in the affirmative hopeful teaching, however strongly he states the other aspect, this ascension is sure in the end of each essay or lecture. [back]
Note 60. It seems well to append to the essay on Fate Mr. Emersons condensed statements of his reasonings on the subject. The first may very probably be of the date 1852. We have shown by straws the way the current sets by race, sex, laws of nature, climate, sea, tables of mortality, statistics. Force of natural laws in relation to human wishes. T is limitation. Limitation of what? Of Power. Ah! then there is Power. We exert power. The very discovery that there is Fate, and that we are thwarted, equally discloses Power. For what is it that is limited? What but power? And again: I still arrive only at three facts. 1. The revelation of thought takes us out of servitude into freedom. 2. So does the sense of right. They are exertions of will, a blending of these two, a certain rank choice, a feeling of sovereignty, right growing out of perceiving and owing, it makes the strong will. 3. Once more. Every command, every oppression proves freedom. Dig in my field. The command implies a servant who may obey or disobey. The following is from the journal of 1859: Our doctrine must begin with the Necessary and Eternal, and discriminate Fate from the Necessary. There is no limitation about the Eternal. Thought, Will is co-eternal with the world; and as soon as intellect is awaked in any man, it shares so far of the eternity,is of the maker, not of the made. But Fate is the name we give to the action of that one eternal, all-various necessity on the brute myriads, whether in things, animals, or in men in whom the intellect pure is not yet opened. To such it is only a burning wall which hurts those who run against it. The great day in the man is the birth of perception, which instantly throws him on the party of the Eternal. He sees what must be, and that it is not more that which must be, than it is that which should be, or what is best. To be, then, becomes the infinite good, and breath is jubilation. A breath of Will blows through the Universe eternally in the direction of the right or necessary; it is the air which all intellects inhale and exhale, and all things are blown or moved by it in order and orbit. The secret of the Will is that it doth what it knows absolutely good to be done, and so is greater than itself, and is divine in doing. Whilst other choices are of an appetite or of a disease, as an itching skin, or of a thief, or sot, or striker. Nature is the memory of the mind, said A. But come how it will, the only men of any account in nature are the three or five we have beheld who have a will. Then we say, here is a man, and men obey him; his body is sweet, and not putrid like others; his words are loaded, and all around him is eventful. Come, then, count your reasons. 1. The belief in Fate is unwholesome, and can only be good where it teaches the strength of nature to man. 2. We only value a stroke of will; he alone is happy who has will; the rest are herds. He uses, they are used. 3. This will derives from the aboriginal nature, is perception of the Eternal Necessity. It rests on God himself, and that is its power to shock, that it betrays his presence in this loafer; but it winds through dark channels, and one knows not how it arrived here. It is a sharing of the true order of the world, and a push in that interest and direction. It is born freedom in the intellect. On that bright moment when we are born into thought, we are instantaneously uplifted out of the rank we had. Now we are of the maker, not of the made. Now all things have such a look as the horse has which we drive. Perception distances this mob which so rubbed against us. But is there not another element, or, people who are strong through love alone? The essay on The Tragic, in Natural History of Intellect, also deals with the question of Fate. In conclusion, here are some sentences which may serve as a practical application of Emersons sermon on Faith: 1852. Never was anything gained by admitting the omnipotence of limitations. The only interest the word Fate ever has for us is when the man hears expressions like these: You come to your fate by the efforts you make to escape it. In seeing him or her I met my fate. You carry cæsar and his fate. My task is my insurance. In my youth I was protected from dangers in a wonderful manner. My eyes were holden that I could not see. [back]