Nonfiction > Ralph Waldo Emerson > The Complete Works
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882).  The Complete Works.  1904.
Vol. VII. Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters
I. Society and Solitude
  SEYD melted the days like cups of pearl,
Served high and low, the lord and churl,
Loved harebells nodding on a rock,
A cabin hung with curling smoke,
Ring of axe or hum of wheel
Or gleam which use can paint on steel,
And huts and tents; nor loved he less
Stately lords in palaces,
Princely women hard to please,
Fenced by form and ceremony,
Decked by courtly rites and dress
And etiquette of gentilesse.
But when the mate of the snow and wind,
He left each civil scale behind:
Him wood-gods fed with honey wild
And of his memory beguiled.
In caves and hollow trees he crept
And near the wolf and panther slept.
He stood before the tumbling main
With joy too tense for sober brain;
He shared the life of the element,
The tie of blood and home was rent:
As if in him the welkin walked,
The winds took flesh, the mountains talked,
And he the bard, a crystal soul,
Sphered and concentric with the whole.

  That each should in his house abide,
Therefore was the world so wide.

I FELL 1 in with a humorist on my travels, who had in his chamber a cast of the Rondanini Medusa, and who assured me that the name which that fine work of art bore in the catalogues was a misnomer, as he was convinced that the sculptor who carved it intended it for Memory, the mother of the Muses. 2 In the conversation that followed, my new friend made some extraordinary confessions. “Do you not see,” he said, “the penalty of learning, and that each of these scholars whom you have met at S——, though he were to be the last man, would, like the executioner in Hood’s poem, guillotine the last but one?” He added many lively remarks, but his evident earnestness engaged my attention, and in the weeks that followed we became better acquainted. He had good abilities, a genial temper and no vices; but he had one defect,—he could not speak in the tone of the people. There was some paralysis on his will, such that when he met men on common terms he spoke weakly and from the point, like a flighty girl. His consciousness of the fault made it worse. He envied every drover and lumberman in the tavern their manly speech. He coveted Mirabeau’s don terrible de la familiarité, believing that he whose sympathy goes lowest is the man from whom kings have the most to fear. For himself he declared that he could not get enough alone to write a letter to a friend. He left the city; he hid himself in pastures. The solitary river was not solitary enough; the sun and moon put him out. When he bought a house, the first thing he did was to plant trees. He could not enough conceal himself. Set a hedge here; set oaks there,—trees behind trees; above all, set evergreens, for they will keep a secret all the year round. The most agreeable compliment you could pay him was to imply that you had not observed him in a house or a street where you had met him. Whilst he suffered at being seen where he was, he consoled himself with the delicious thought of the inconceivable number of places where he was not. All he wished of his tailor was to provide that sober mean of color and cut which would never detain the eye for a moment. He went to Vienna, to Smyrna, to London. In all the variety of costumes, a carnival, a kaleidoscope of clothes, to his horror he could never discover a man in the street who wore anything like his own dress. He would have given his soul for the ring of Gyges. His dismay at his visibility had blunted the fears of mortality. “Do you think,” he said, “I am in such great terror of being shot,—I, who am only waiting to shuffle off my corporeal jacket to slip away into the back stars, and put diameters of the solar system and sidereal orbits between me and all souls,—there to wear out ages in solitude, and forget memory itself, if it be possible?” He had a remorse running to despair of his social gaucheries, and walked miles and miles to get the twitchings out of his face, the starts and shrugs out of his arms and shoulders. God may forgive sins, he said, but awkwardness has no forgiveness in heaven or earth. He admired in Newton not so much his theory of the moon as his letter to Collins, in which he forbade him to insert his name with the solution of the problem in the Philosophical Transactions: “It would perhaps increase my acquaintance, the thing which I chiefly study to decline.” 3
  These conversations led me somewhat later to the knowledge of similar cases, and to the discovery that they are not of very infrequent occurrence. Few substances are found pure in nature. Those constitutions which can bear in open day the rough dealing of the world must be of that mean and average structure such as iron and salt, atmospheric air and water. But there are metals, like potassium and sodium, which, to be kept pure, must be kept under naphtha. Such are the talents determined on some specialty, which a culminating civilization fosters in the heart of great cities and in royal chambers. Nature protects her own work. To the culture of the world an Archimedes, a Newton is indispensable; so she guards them by a certain aridity. If these had been good fellows, fond of dancing, port and clubs, we should have had no Theory of the Sphere and no Principia. They had that necessity of isolation which genius feels. Each must stand on his glass tripod if he would keep his electricity. Even Swedenborg, whose theory of the universe is based on affection, and who reprobates to weariness the danger and vice of pure intellect, is constrained to make an extraordinary exception: “There are also angels who do not live consociated, but separate, house and house; these dwell in the midst of heaven, because they are the best of angels.”  2
  We have known many fine geniuses with that imperfection that they cannot do anything useful, not so much as write one clean sentence. ’T is worse, and tragic, that no man is fit for society who has fine traits. At a distance he is admired, but bring him hand to hand, he is a cripple. 4 One protects himself by solitude, and one by courtesy, and one by an acid, worldly manner,—each concealing how he can the thinness of his skin and his incapacity for strict association. But there is no remedy that can reach the heart of the disease but either habits of self-reliance that should go in practice to making the man independent of the human race, or else a religion of love. Now he hardly seems entitled to marry; for how can he protect a woman, who cannot protect himself?  3
  We pray to be conventional. But the wary Heaven takes care you shall not be, if there is anything good in you. Dante was very bad company, and was never invited to dinner. Michel Angelo had a sad, sour time of it. The ministers of beauty are rarely beautiful in coaches and saloons. Columbus discovered no isle or key so lonely as himself. Yet each of these potentates saw well the reason of his exclusion. Solitary was he? Why, yes; but his society was limited only by the amount of brain nature appropriated in that age to carry on the government of the world. “If I stay,” said Dante, when there was question of going to Rome, “who will go? and if I go, who will stay?”  4
  But the necessity of solitude is deeper than we have said, and is organic. 5 I have seen many a philosopher whose world is large enough for only one person. He affects to be a good companion; but we are still surprising his secret, that he means and needs to impose his system on all the rest. The determination of each is from all the others, like that of each tree up into free space. ’T is no wonder, when each has his whole head, our societies should be so small. Like President Tyler, our party falls from us every day, and we must ride in a sulky at last. Dear heart! take it sadly home to thee,—there is no coöperation. We begin with friendships, and all our youth is a reconnoitring and recruiting of the holy fraternity they shall combine for the salvation of men. But so the remoter stars seem a nebula of united light, yet there is no group which a telescope will not resolve; and the dearest friends are separated by impassable gulfs. The coöperation is involuntary, and is put upon us by the Genius of Life, who reserves this as a part of his prerogative. ’T is fine for us to talk; we sit and muse and are serene and complete; but the moment we meet with anybody, each becomes a fraction. 6  5
  Though the stuff of tragedy and of romances is in a moral union of two superior persons whose confidence in each other for long years, out of sight and in sight, and against all appearances, is at last justified by victorious proof of probity to gods and men, causing joyful emotions, tears and glory,—though there be for heroes this moral union, yet they too are as far off as ever from an intellectual union, and the moral union is for comparatively low and external purposes, like the coöperation of a ship’s company or of a fire-club. But how insular and pathetically solitary are all the people we know! Nor dare they tell what they think of each other when they meet in the street. We have a fine right, to be sure, to taunt men of the world with superficial and treacherous courtesies!  6
  Such is the tragic necessity which strict science finds underneath our domestic and neighborly life, irresistibly driving each adult soul as with whips into the desert, and making our warm covenants sentimental and momentary. 7 We must infer that the ends of thought were peremptory, if they were to be secured at such ruinous cost. They are deeper than can be told, and belong to the immensities and eternities. They reach down to that depth where society itself originates and disappears; where the question is, Which is first, man or men? where the individual is lost in his source.  7
  But this banishment to the rocks and echoes no metaphysics can make right or tolerable. This result is so against nature, such a half-view, that it must be corrected by a common sense and experience. “A man is born by the side of his father, and there he remains.” A man must be clothed with society, or we shall feel a certain bareness and poverty, as of a displaced and unfurnished member. He is to be dressed in arts and institutions, as well as in body garments. 8 Now and then a man exquisitely made can live alone, and must; but coop up most men and you undo them. “The king lived and ate in his hall with men, and understood men,” said Selden. When a young barrister said to the late Mr. Mason, “I keep my chamber to read law,”—“Read law!” replied the veteran, “’t is in the court-room you must read law.” Nor is the rule otherwise for literature. If you would learn to write, ’t is in the street you must learn it. Both for the vehicle and for the aims of fine arts you must frequent the public square. The people, and not the college, is the writer’s home. A scholar is a candle which the love and desire of all men will light. Never his lands or his rents, but the power to charm the disguised soul that sits veiled under this bearded and that rosy visage is his rent and ration. His products are as needful as those of the baker or the weaver. Society cannot do without cultivated men. As soon as the first wants are satisfied, the higher wants become imperative. 9  8
  ’T is hard to mesmerize ourselves, to whip our own top; but through sympathy we are capable of energy and endurance. Concert fires people to a certain fury of performance they can rarely reach alone. Here is the use of society: it is so easy with the great to be great; so easy to come up to an existing standard;—as easy as it is to the lover to swim to his maiden through waves so grim before. The benefits of affection are immense; and the one event which never loses its romance is the encounter with superior persons on terms allowing the happiest intercourse.  9
  It by no means follows that we are not fit for society, because soirées are tedious and because the soirée finds us tedious. A backwoodsman, who had been sent to the university, told me that when he heard the best-bred young men at the law-school talk together, he reckoned himself a boor; but whenever he caught them apart, and had one to himself alone, then they were the boors and he the better man. And if we recall the rare hours when we encountered the best persons, we then found ourselves, and then first society seemed to exist. That was society, though in the transom of a brig or on the Florida Keys. 10  10
  A cold sluggish blood thinks it has not facts enough to the purpose, and must decline its turn in the conversation. But they who speak have no more,—have less. ’T is not new facts that avail, but the heat to dissolve everybody’s facts. Heat puts you in right relation with magazines of facts. The capital defect of cold, arid natures is the want of animal spirits. They seem a power incredible, as if God should raise the dead. The recluse witnesses what others perform by their aid, with a kind of fear. It is as much out of his possibility as the prowess of Cœur-de-Lion, or an Irishman’s day’s work on the railroad. ’T is said the present and the future are always rivals. Animal spirits constitute the power of the present, and their feats are like the structure of a pyramid. Their result is a lord, a general, or a boon companion. Before these what a base mendicant is Memory with his leathern badge! But this genial heat is latent in all constitutions, and is disengaged only by the friction of society. As Bacon said of manners, “To obtain them, it only needs not to despise them,” so we say of animal spirits that they are the spontaneous product of health and of a social habit. “For behavior, men learn it, as they take diseases, one of another.”  11
  But the people are to be taken in very small doses. If solitude is proud, so is society vulgar. In society, high advantages are set down to the individual as disqualifications. We sink as easily as we rise, through sympathy. So many men whom I know are degraded by their sympathies; their native aims being high enough, but their relation all too tender to the gross people about them. Men cannot afford to live together on their merits, and they adjust themselves by their demerits,—by their love of gossip, or by sheer tolerance and animal good nature. They untune and dissipate the brave aspirant. 11  12
  The remedy is to reinforce each of these moods from the other. Conversation will not corrupt us if we come to the assembly in our own garb and speech and with the energy of health to select what is ours and reject what is not. Society we must have; but let it be society, and not exchanging news or eating from the same dish. Is it society to sit in one of your chairs? I cannot go to the houses of my nearest relatives, because I do not wish to be alone. Society exists by chemical affinity, and not otherwise.  13
  Put any company of people together with freedom for conversation, and a rapid self-distribution takes place into sets and pairs. The best are accused of exclusiveness. It would be more true to say they separate as oil from water, as children from old people, without love or hatred in the matter, each seeking his like; and any interference with the affinities would produce constraint and suffocation. All conversation is a magnetic experiment. I know that my friend can talk eloquently; you know that he cannot articulate a sentence: we have seen him in different company. Assort your party, or invite none. Put Stubbs and Coleridge, Quintilian and Aunt Miriam, into pairs, and you make them all wretched. ’T is an extempore Sing-Sing built in a parlor. Leave them to seek their own mates, and they will be as merry as sparrows. 12  14
  A higher civility will reëstablish in our customs a certain reverence which we have lost. What to do with these brisk young men who break through all fences, and make themselves at home in every house? I find out in an instant if my companion does not want me, and ropes cannot hold me when my welcome is gone. One would think that the affinities would pronounce themselves with a surer reciprocity. 13  15
  Here again, as so often, nature delights to put us between extreme antagonisms, and our safety is in the skill with which we keep the diagonal line. Solitude is impracticable, and society fatal. We must keep our head in the one and our hands in the other. The conditions are met, if we keep our independence, yet do not lose our sympathy. These wonderful horses need to be driven by fine hands. We require such a solitude as shall hold us to its revelations when we are in the street and in palaces; for most men are cowed in society, and say good things to you in private, but will not stand to them in public. But let us not be the victims of words. Society and solitude are deceptive names. It is not the circumstance of seeing more or fewer people, but the readiness of sympathy, that imports; and a sound mind will derive its principles from insight, with ever a purer ascent to the sufficient and absolute right, and will accept society as the natural element in which they are to be applied. 14  16
Note 1. It may be well to recall some of the outward events which occurred and conditions which existed during the decade intervening between the publication of The Conduct of Life and of Mr. Emerson’s next volume of essays, Society and Solitude, which did not appear until 1870. In those years a crisis in which the life or death of the United States hung long in what seemed a doubtful issue had been safely passed. Statesmen, “practical” politicians who ridiculed the higher law which the scholars and simple folk believed in, and merchants who strove to silence them for the sake of trade, were suddenly overwhelmed by the logic of events.
  Destiny sat by and said,
‘Pang for pang your seed shall pay,
Hide in false peace your coward head,
I bring round the harvest day.’
  This triumph of Right to
  Redress the eternal scales
brought to Emerson relief and joy; but he had not, like Jonah, sat still watching for the destruction of the wicked. Before the war, in speaking for the slave, he had steadily braved unpopularity, and once or twice perhaps danger; yet, seeing the distress that sudden loss of slave property would cause in the South, had urged compensation when few Northern abolitionists could make allowance for the unfortunate condition into which the slaveholders were born, but regarded them only as criminals. He wished to deliver the white man from his curse even more than the negro. When after Lincoln’s inauguration the issue was forced by the slaveholding interest, Mr. Emerson could not bear arms, but did better service to his country after his kind. Through the long, cruel conflict he strove, not only in special patriotic meetings, but in his lectures on the great and permanent themes, to keep the hearts of his hearers up and lift their standard higher. Many of these essays, as lectures, had exordiums fit for the day. “Civilization” is but a part of a lecture given at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, in January, 1862, called “Civilization at a Pinch,” in which the duty of the hour, Emancipation, was urged. The “Boston Hymn” a year later celebrated its proclamation, and “Voluntaries” was a proud dirge for Colonel Robert Shaw and his officers and soldiers killed on the slopes of Fort Wagner.
  But the war made great demands on the resources of those who stayed at home, as taxes and prices rose, and the “hard times” outlasted the four years of actual hostilities. Strictest economies and increased work were required to meet them. Mr. Emerson derived little income from his books, and lecturing was his main resource. Fortunately the awakened heart and mind of the people demanded encouragement and instruction. Not only the lyceums of the older States, where his voice had long been heard, wished to hear his word of hope, but calls came from the new country beyond the Mississippi.
  Mr. Emerson’s name was now widely known. Many guests from both sides of the ocean came to his door. His children had grown up, and in 1865 his younger daughter was happily married to a brave soldier whose release from a Southern prison came just in time to enable him to be present at the closing scene of the war. Mr. Emerson’s delight in children appears in the lecture on Domestic Life and, though it was written in 1859, it very possibly was improved before printing because of the birth of his grandchildren.
  In 1866 Harvard College invited him, after twenty-nine years, again to deliver the Phi Beta Kappa Oration. Next year he was chosen an Overseer, and in 1870 was asked to deliver a course on Philosophy there.
  In this decade two near friends were taken from him by death, Henry Thoreau and Mrs. Sarah Ripley. In 1860 Theodore Parker, respected and valued by Mr. Emerson, died, and for several years thereafter he was frequently called by Mr. Parker’s Society to speak to them on Sundays at the Music Hall and on week-days at their “Fraternity Lectures.”
  To one who heard Emerson lecture, the printed essays recall the spoken word and the speaker’s presence. They were all thus first tested on the average American audience in town and country. The earlier addresses show more of the priest, the later of the lecturer who was also a poet, though the characteristics only vary in proportion.
  The testimony of two of the hearers may be adduced. Mr. John Albee in his “Emerson as an Essayist” [Remembrances of Emerson, by John Albee] says:—
  “Most of them were prepared for public delivery. Some profess to detect this in their style. I should never discover it, had I not heard some of them and since been unable to forget the tones of voice, the manner and the total effect of the delivery. For it certainly cannot be discovered by any resemblances to writing that we do know was prepared for public delivery, which has for its prevailing qualities nothing in the least like the qualities of Emerson’s page.
  “The old lecture platform witnessed every sort of performance with an impartial eye. It listened to eloquence, to nonsense and to thought; it was not greatly moved by any; it was, perhaps, made a little more eager for the next lecture, which might demolish the ideas of the last. The audiences had their favorites, usually the more eloquent speakers. But it is painful to recall and still more so to read what went under the name of eloquence in Emerson’s day; that which was selected for school-readers, spouted by collegians and admired by everybody.”
  Lowell said in an article in the Nation:
  “I have heard some great speakers, and some accomplished orators, but never any that so moved and persuaded men as he. There is a kind of undertone in that rich baritone of his that sweeps our minds from their foothold into deep waters with a drift we cannot and would not resist. And how artfully (for Emerson is a long-studied artist in these things) does the deliberate utterance, that seems waiting for the first word, seem to admit us partners in the labor of thought, and make us feel as if the glance of humor were a sudden suggestion; as if the perfect phrase lying written there on the desk were as unexpected to him as to us!”
  Two extracts from Mr. Emerson’s letters to Carlyle may be here introduced to bring up the picture of the raw young country in those days, as seen through the hopeful eyes of the New England idealist.
  28 July, 1851: “‘The Far West’ is the right name for these verdant deserts. On all the shores interminable silent forest. If you land, there is prairie beyond prairie, forest behind forest, sites of nations, no nations. The raw bullion of nature; what we call ‘moral’ value not yet stamped on it. But in a thousand miles the immense material values will show twenty or fifty Californias; that a good ciphering head will make one where he is. Thus at Pittsburg, on the Ohio, the Iron City, whither, from want of railroads, few Yankees have penetrated, every acre of land has three or four bottoms: first of rich soil; then nine feet of bituminous coal; a little lower fourteen feet of coal; then iron, or salt; salt springs, with a valuable oil called petroleum floating on their surface. Yet this acre sells for the price of any tillage acre in Massachusetts; and, in a year, the railroads will reach it, east and west. I came home by the great Northern Lakes and Niagara.”
  19 April, 1853: “I went lately to St. Louis and saw the Mississippi again. The powers of the River, the insatiate craving for nations of men to reap and cure its harvests, the conditions it imposes,—for it yields to no engineering,—are interesting enough. The Prairie exists to yield the greatest possible quantity of adipocere. For corn makes pig, pig is the export of all the land, and you shall see the instant dependence of aristocracy and civility on the fat four-legs. Workingmen, ability to do the work of the River, abounded. Nothing higher was to be thought of. America is incomplete. Room for us all, since it has not ended, nor given sign of ending, in bard or hero. ’T is a wild democracy, the riot of mediocrities, and none of your selfish Italies and Englands, when an age sublimates into a genius.”
  In a letter written to Carlyle in the end of January, 1870, Mr. Emerson gives the following account of the making of this volume: “I received your first letter with pure joy, but in the midst of extreme inefficiency. I had suddenly yielded to a proposition of Fields & Co. to manufacture a book for a given day. The book was planned and going on passably, when it was found better to divide the matter, and separate and postpone the purely literary portion (criticism chiefly), and therefore to modify and swell the elected part. The attempt proved more difficult than I had believed. Meantime the publication day was announced and the printer at the door. Then came your letter in the shortening days. When I drudged to keep my word, invita Minerva, I could not write in my book and I could not write a letter. To-morrow and many morrows made things worse, for we have indifferent health in the house, and, as it chanced, unusual strain of affairs—which always come when they should not…. But I will leave the bad month, which I hope will not match itself in my lifetime. Only ’t is pathetic and remorseful to me that any purpose of yours, especially a purpose so inspired, should find me imbecile.”
  The “purely literary portion” mentioned as omitted from the book probably refers to the “Poetry and Criticism” and “Persian Poetry,” which were included in the next volume, Letters and Social Aims.
  When the volume reached England it brought back this response from his old friend:—
APRIL 6TH, 1870.    
  The “little Book” I read here,… with great attention, clear assent for most part, and admiring recognition. It seems to me you are all your old self here, and something more. A calm insight, piercing to the very centre; a beautiful sympathy, a beautiful epic humor; a soul peaceably irrefragable in this loud-jangling world, of which it sees the ugliness, but notices only the huge new opulences (still so anarchic); knows the electric telegraph, with all its vulgar botherations and impertinences, accurately for what it is, and ditto ditto the oldest eternal Theologies of men. All this belongs to the Highest Class of thought (you may depend upon it); and again seemed to me as, in several respects, the one perfectly Human Voice I had heard among my fellow creatures for a long time. And then the “style,” the treatment and expression,—yes, it is inimitable, best,—Emersonian throughout. Such brevity, simplicity, softness, homely grace; with such a penetrating meaning, soft enough, but irresistible, going down to the depths and up to the heights, as silent electricity goes. You have done very well; and many will know it ever better by degrees. Only one thing farther I will note: How you go as if altogether on the “Over-Soul,” the Ideal, the Perfect or Universal and Eternal in this life of ours; and take so little heed of the frightful quantities of friction and perverse impediment there everywhere are; the reflections upon which in my own poor life made me now and then very sad, as I read you. Ah me, ah me; what a vista it is, mournful, beautiful, unfathomable as Eternity itself, these last fifty years of Time to me.

  All or nearly all the essays included in this book existed in some form as lectures in 1858 or 1859. What is known of their first delivery will be told in the notes to each essay. Yet they underwent much change during the long period of rehearsal, and sheets from them often did duty in other lectures, before the final crystallization. [back]
Note 2. One may guess that this humorist interpreted the Medusa as a Memory because, though her face was calm, it was ever encircled by snakes. This passage may be a parable in which are figured “those infinite compunctions which embitter in mature life the remembrances of budding joy, and cover every beloved name. Everything is beautiful seen from the point of the intellect, or as truth. But all is sour if seen as experience” [“Love,” Essays, First Series, p. 171].
  Mr. Emerson believed himself so unfitted for society, in his younger years, that his memories were mortifications, and he turned his face resolutely away from them. He felt the want of animal spirits. He early wrote: “There is no more indifferent companion, Heaven knows, in ordinary society than myself. I profoundly pity my right and left hand men. But do not blame my dulness. As soon as I have done my studies I collapse. ’T is my hygeia and natural restorative.”
  In those days he was not strong, and perhaps memories of his awkwardness in his parochial duties distressed him.
  Journal, 1835. “Is it because I am such a bigot to my own whims, that I distrust the ability of a man who insists much on the advantage to be derived from literary conversazioni. Above is wisdom, above is happiness. Society nowadays makes us low-spirited, hopeless; above is heaven.”
  In Concord woods he found healing for body, and oracles for the soul. The following is an extract from a lecture called “Country Life,” given in 1857:—
  “The place where a thoughtful man in the country feels the joy of eminent domain is his wood-lot. If he suffer from accident or low spirits, his spirits rise when he enters it. I could not find it in my heart to chide the citizen who should ruin himself to buy a patch of heavy oak-timber. A walk in the woods is the consolation of mortal men. I think no pursuit has more breath of immortality in it.” [back]
Note 3. But the wood-life had no exemption from the law of Compensation. The virtue that there came in to him must go out from him, the messages be delivered. In family, village and public life he did his part and reaped his reward.
  Journal, 1840. “Would it not be a good cipher for the seal of the Lonely Society which forms so fast in these days,—Two porcupines meeting, with all their spines erect, and the motto, ‘We converse at the quills’ end’?” [back]
Note 4. During Mr. Emerson’s ministry in Boston in 1828 he wrote in his journal, “A wise man in certain society is a magnet among shavings.”
  Of the Poet he later wrote,—
  In cities he was low and mean;
The mountain waters washed him clean
And by the sea-waves he was strong.
“Fragments on the Poet,” Poems, Appendix.    
Note 5. Of himself Mr. Emerson would say, “My doom and my strength is to be solitary.” [back]
Note 6. In a lecture on Society, in the course in Boston, 1836–37, he said: “A man should live among those with whom he can act naturally, who permit and provoke the expression of all his thoughts and emotions. Yet the course of events does steadily thwart any attempt at very dainty and select fellowship, and he who would live as a man in the world must not wait too proudly for the presence of the gifted and the good. The unlike mind can teach him much.” [back]
Note 7. The soul’s solitude may be read in his parable, the fragment on Nature,—
  Atom from atom yawns as far
As moon from earth or star from star.
  Journal, 1835. “’T is very strange how much we owe the perception of the absolute solitude of the spirit to the affections. I sit alone, and cannot arouse myself to thoughts. I go and sit with my friend and in the endeavour to explain my thought to him or her, I lay bare the awful mystery to myself as never before, and start at the total loneliness and infinity of one man.”
  In the lecture on Society above mentioned he wrote with regard to the societies which claimed his aid:—
  “Philanthropic association aims to increase the efficiency of individuals by organization. But the gain of power is much less than it seems, since each brings only a mechanical aid; does not apply to the enterprise the infinite force of one man; and in some proportion to the material growth is the spiritual decay.” [back]
Note 8. Now comes the counter-statement. In a lecture on Private Life, in the course of 1839–40 on the Present Age, Mr. Emerson said, “Nothing but God is self-dependent. Man is powerful only by the multitude of his affinities.”
  Mr. Emerson writes in his journal of 1852:—
  “Of Francis Potter Aubrey says, ‘’T was pity that such a delicate inventive wit should be staked in an obscure corner from whence men rarely emerge to higher preferment, but contract a moss on them, like an old pale in an orchard, for want of ingenious conversations, which is a great want even to the deepest thinking men; as Mr. Hobbes hath often said to me.’”
  The new home in Concord after Mr. Emerson’s marriage, its hospitalities and the new friends who visited him there, altered his half-resolves to be a hermit, “since it was from eternity a settled thing that he and society were to be nothing to each other.” [back]
Note 9. The rapidly increasing demand through the country for instruction by the serious lyceum-lecture justified this statement. Mr. Emerson, remembering that “the light of the public square tests the statue,” saw the value of testing his lectures on self-made men and brave women and earnest youths struggling for an education. [back]
Note 10. The allusion here is to a happy experience, always remembered with pleasure. On his journey to Florida for health, when a student, Mr. Emerson fell in with Achille Murat, the son of Napoleon’s great leader of cavalry, afterwards king of Naples. The son was a man of thought and of great charm, then a planter at Tallahassee. He and Mr. Emerson exchanged some thoughtful letters, but never met again. Apropos of the first part of the paragraph is the following extract:—
  Journal, 1862. “In manners, how impossible to overcome an unlucky temperament, unless by living with the well-bred from the start!
*        *        *        *        *
  “Intellectual men pass for vulgar, and are timid and heavy with the elegant; but exhibit the best style if the elegant are intellectual. But the dancers’ violin, or Beethoven’s music even, degrades them instantly in manners, if they are not also musical.
  “Laws of society, a forever engaging topic. At Sir Wm. Molesworth’s house, I asked Milnes to get me safely out: he behaved very well. An impassive temperament is a great fortune. Que de choses dont je peux me passer! even dancing and music, if I had that.” [back]
Note 11. The heights of an austere nobility in friendship and love are pictured in the end of the poems “Rhea” and “The Celestial Love.” The poem “Friendship” is more human and no less noble. [back]
Note 12. Mr. Emerson used to say, “Whom God hath put asunder let not man join together.” [back]
Note 13.
  If Love his moment overstay,
Hatred’s swift repulsions play.
“The Visit,” Poems.    
Note 14. The balancing necessity of these complementary conditions is set forth in a stray sheet, perhaps from the course on the Present Age, in 1839–40:—
  “We have a double consciousness. We go to school, we learn to read, write, cipher and trade. We have talents, arts, success; we buy and sell, have wives, children, possessions, humours; we unfold and earn and prosper and possess.
  “But there is another element in us which does not learn or study or make gain, or value these things at all. It broods on all that is done, but does not; it makes no progress; is as wise at our earliest remembrance, as it is now. Others may come and go, fetch and carry, travel and govern. It lies in the sun and broods on the world.”
  Yet in turn Thought must become Action to justify itself. The following is from the lecture “Morals,” given in 1859:
  “Meantime let no man imagine that the ends of the soul can be attained by intellectual exercises. Contemplation is an office of man, but contemplation is not man. Let him obey the melodious voice of Duty, which vibrates through the universe, calling him always to act. The moral sentiment so profound, and which seems the nearest vision we have of the face of the Creator, reveals itself still in actions. The heart in us is orphan and forlorn until it finds virtue. Beside a duty, beside humility, beside courage, self-denial, and laborious love, how cold and dreary seem to us the gifts of mere genius. Go and deal with persons who are just and benevolent, not in the vulgar and moderate sense, but religiously so, and you feel at home, though in another land or another world.”
  Mr. Emerson elsewhere thus summarized his conclusion: “A man must ride alternately on the horses of his public and private nature,—
      “Like vaulters in a circus round
Who leap from horse to horse but never touch the ground.”
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