RALPH WALDO EMERSON
N1ne years after Bryant, Emerson was born. Our second American poet began his life in 1803, half-way between the war of the Revolution and the war with England in 1812. The embattled farmers had won their independence, and they were ready for another fray. It was a time of sturdy self-assertion. The early Calvinism had been toned down by a discovery of the dignity of man. Emerson was the heir of eight successive generations of Puritan divines who had been gradually sloughing off their Puritanism and standing for what they regarded as natural freedom of thought. Straitened circumstances had trained him, as they trained Bryant, to plain living; his Cambridge surroundings were more favorable than were Bryant's to high thinking. His father was pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Boston, a pleasing preacher of somewhat latitudinarian doctrine and no stickler jfor the mere forms of religion. When this father died, •^Jf left a family of six children, all of them under ten years of age, of whom Ralph was the fourth son. The mother, with five hundred dollars a year from the church, kept boarders in order to support and educate her children. They sometimes lacked food, but then
52 INTELLECTUAL DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENXE
their aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, a genius but a strict Calvinist, stayed their stomachs by telling them stories of heroic endurance.
Ralph Waldo lived in an atmosphere of letters. He is described as a spiritual-looking boy in blue nankeen, angelic and remarkable. He had a lofty carriage of the head, which some attributed to pride, but which was wholly unconscious. There was no education of the playground or the nursery. < Aunt .Mary frowned upon mirth or frivolity in the children. The boy lived a life apart, and never learned to mingle freely with his fellows. School began when he was only three years old. He does not appear to have..been a precocious scholar. In his college course at Harvard, he was not distinguished in his class, except for a certain poetical gift . He supported himself through college by serving as errand boy to the president, and by waiting on the table at commons. But all this nourished in him a habitual self-reliance, and the child was father of the man, for in his diary he wrote even then, "I purpose from this day to utter no essay or poem that is not absolutely and peculiarly my own."
Emerson's address on "The American Scholar," delivered at Cambridge in 1837, has been called "the intellectual Declaration of Independence of the United States." But that address was antedated by Bryant's dictum, eighteen years before, that American poe^^ should seek to achieve original expression and shouw1 no longer imitate. It is easy to see that freedom was in the air, and that neither one of these writers had a monopoly of originality. Colonial subjection, even in literature, had had its day, and a new age was- opening.
"THE SPHINX" 53
Both Bryant and Emerson felt the stirrings of a new life, the former in his vision of the New England landscape, the latter in his apprehension of the spirit which moved within it. Of the two, however, we must give the palm for simplicity and intelligibility to Bryant, though we acknowledge the superiority of Emerson in breadth and insight. I speak of their poetry, and I would liken Bryant's to the clear radiance of a summer morning, while Emerson's is like the fitful flashes which light up a summer evening cloud.
It is interesting to note that Emerson puts his poem of "The Sphinx" in the forefront of his published verses. This somewhat obscure and unmetrical production has significance as indicating his own estimate of his genius, and as boldly challenging the animadversions of his critics. Emerson is himself a sphinx. His writings propound a riddle, which is still unsolved. Is he philosopher, ©r poet, or prophet? Matthew Arnold denies that he is any one of these, and declares rather ambiguously that he is simply "the friend and aider of those who would live in the spirit." Emerson is doubtful about himself, for at one time he says, " It has been decided that I cannet write poetry "; at other times he writes: "I am half a bard, not a poet, but a lover of poetry and poets." "I am born a poet—of a lower class, no doubt, yet a poet." "I am not a great poet, but whatever is of me is a poet." "<My singing, be sure, is very husky, and is for the most part in prose. Still I am a poet, in the sense of a preserver and dear lover of the harmonies that are in the soul and in matter, and specially of the correspondences between these and those." But James
54, A POETICAL PHILOSOPHER
Russell Lowell said of Emerson's verses, "They are pure pr ;no, they are not even prose."
Perhaps it is nearest the truth to say that he was a poetical philosopher. But even here we must qualify our statement. If organization of material is necessary to philosophy, Emerson was no philosopher, for he had no system. He speaks of his own " formidable tendency to the lapidary style. I build my house of boulders. Here I sit, and read and write, with very little system, and as far as regards composition with the most fragmentary result, paragraphs incomprehensible, each sentence an infinitely repellent particle." What philosophy he has is infinitely eclectic also—a medley of all philosophies—fate and free will, good and evil, God and man, being inextricably combined and confounded. I am more inclined to call him a prophet than to call him either a poet or a philosopher. The prophet utters some great and vital truth, but he mixes with this so much of error that he becomes too often a false prophet. What he says of Alcott is even more true of himself: "Gold ore is so combined with other elements that no chemistry is able to separate it without great loss."
Yet there is a leading and dominant thought in all his work, and we must grasp this, if we would understand either his poetry or his prose. It is the thought of the spiritual meaning of the world. Emerson, beyond all others, is the poet of transcendentalism, but of transcendentalism under bonds to a naturalistic philosophy. To explain and to justify this estimate will require some reflection, and I can at present only indicate the drift of mv discussion. Since his verse is
MAN EXPLAINED BY NATURE 55
exceedingly condensed and enigmatical, we can best understand it if we first study the larger and plainer expression of his thought in his essays. Let it suffice now to point out the fact that, as Emerson prefaced with " The Sphinx " the collection of his poems, so he made his address on "Nature" introduce the edition Of his prose. Where one begins in philosophy, there he is likely to ejd. If we begin with the seemingly fixed successions of the outward world, we shall be apt to apply the category of necessity to man, and shall deny his freedom, responsibility, sin, and guilt; whereas, if we begin with man's conscience and free will, we have the only possible key to the mysteries of nature, for nature's laws are only the regularities of freedom. Emerson makes the fundamental mistake of interpreting man by nature, instead of interpreting nature by man. English Unitarians were materalists, and they thought of nature as consisting of dead lumps and as subject to unvarying law. Emerson did not wholly escape from their influence. "If you wish to understand intellectual philosophy," he says, "do not turn inward by introversion, but study natural science. Every time you discover a law of things, you discover a principle of mind." He adds, indeed, that if you wish to know nature, you must study mind. But, for all that, he begins with nature, and finds there his key to unlock the secrets of the soul.
Cabot, in his admirable biography of Emerson, seeks to mitigate any unfavorable judgment which this fact may lead us to form, by explaining what our author means by nature. In itself, he would say, nature is blind and opaque, is equivalent to fate, is the bondage
56 Defect 1n Emerson's Th1nk1ng
of the spirit. Man, as a part of nature, is the victim of environment. But he is not simply a part of nature; he is not mere effect; he potentially shares the cause. On one side of his being he is open to the divine Mind. He may detach himself from nature, he may be a finite creator. To thought and inspired will, nature is "transparent and plastic. When we yield to the remedial force of spirit, evil is no more seen. (The prerogative of man is to feel this infinity within him, and to make himself its willing instrument. Evil without only reflects his unbelief. (There is freedom to resist the evil and to appropriate the powers of goodj This is Cabot's ingenious interpretation of Emerson s doctrine. Emerson himself, in our opinion, would have smiled at it, as philosophically defining what he meant to leave undefined. He was no Ixion, to turn his cloud into a Juno. His conception of nature was not that of something external and capable of management by will. Nature, he would say, is itself will; but will without freedom, a necessitated and deterministic will; and the only essential difference between Emerson and Schopenhauer was that, 1n Emergoh's v1ew, this will makes for good, to Schopenhauer, for evil.
vvnne tnus indicating the fatal defedt in Emerson's thinking, we may, with all the more frankness, credit him with whatever is good in transcendentalism. That much abused and little understood word denoted a method of thought compounded of English idealism, German intuitionalism, and Oriental immanence. In England, Locke had declared that intellect has no ideas which are not ultimately derived from the senses. Leibnitz, however, had replied that intellect itself can
not be so derived; and Berkeley had insisted that material things cannot be proved to exist apart from mind. It was easy for Hume to infer that we know mental substance within, as little as we know material substance without. Emerson did not conclude, with Hume, that we need no cause for our ideas, in the f world, in the soul, or in God.J He rather held with Berkeley, that, while things Honot exist independently ^% of consciousness, they do exist independently of our \ consciousness, namely, in the mind of (Sod, who in a r correct philosophy takes the place of a mindless ex- / ternal world as the cause of our ideas.'
Emerson's transcendentalism regarded the uerse as spiritual rather than material, and in this he rendered \ /a great/service to contemporary thought. English \ / theology had hardened into Deism—God was far away, an absentee God, sitting on the outside of the uerse ever since he made it. New England had , felt the influence. The old Calvinism was superseded by Arminianism, and American independence recognized the kingdom of man rather than the kingdom of God. It was well that Emerson struck the note of idealism. It summoned his generation to a new recognition of the spiritual nature of the world. If his protest against materialism had only been accompanied by a deeper ethical study of man, he might have led his followers into theism rather than into pantheism. Norton calls Emerson's essay on Nature "an outburst of Romanticism on Puritan ground," and Romanticism was pantheistic rather than theistic.
German intuitionalism was the second factor in Emerson's transcendentalism. Kant, in his investiga
58 *EftiS£SION OF INTUITIONALISM
tion of our processes of knowing, had shown the element of truth in the discarded doctrine of innate ideas, and had declared that the mind employs, in all its exercises, assumptions of time and space, substance and cause, design and right, assumptions which never can
*be proved, because they are the basis of all proof. The categories are intuitiqpal. We have' an original and unverifiable knowledge of principles which lie at the basis of all thinking; and, though these principles are \ undemonstrable, our mental and moral nature is so constructed that we cannot avoid acting upon them. ^Here, and not in mere argument, lies our reason for belief in God. Emerson seized upon the element of truth in intuitionalism, but he sadly exaggerated and perverted it. Instead of accepting it as the regulative principle of all knowledge, he transformed it into a positive source of knowledge. Instead of learning from it how we are to learn, he learned from it what we are to learn. ^The inner light took the place of all the outer lights which God has given us.) Man became a law to himself; ceased to recognize authority of any sort; had no need of revelation from without. "We must not seek advantages from another," says Emer- A son; "the fountain of all good is in ourselves.J. . . Each admirable genius is but a successful diver in that \ sea whose floor of pearls is all your own. : . Be lord of a day, through wisdom and justice, and you can put up your history-books." It is as if, in virtue of our eyesight, we should deny that we need external light whereby to see, or require any special objects to be lit up by that light, or are dependent upon the sun from which that light shines upon us.
AUTHORITY OF HISTORIC REVELATIONS 59
This is the proper place to state our chief objection to Emerson's intuitionalism, and to point out the need of that external authority which he rejected. God does not leave the child or the race to build up all its knowledge anew. As acquired truth finds legitimate forms of expression, it becomes authority for others than those who originally perceived it. All advance in human intelligence depends upon our reverent reception of the treasure which comes to us from the past. God requires us to trust his historic revelations, and to pay respect to the teaching of parents, discoverers, and experts, in education, business, science, and art. Religious truth is particularly subject to this law. We are not the first who have come in contact with God, since all men live, move, and have their being in him. God's revelations to the individual always build upon his teachings of the race. To despise authority, and to set ourselves up as primary recipients of revelation, is to pour contempt upon the whole process of evolution and the organic connection of the generations; is, in short, to substitute individualism for racial unity. /Individual experiences of God and of his grace have been recorded in Scripture, and the Scriptures accordingly are able to make us wise unto salvation. They specially and predominantly testify to Christ as a divine and atoning Saviour, and show how his teaching and work have made God accessible to men. God bids us bow to Christ, as his representative, and'as our supreme authority; and the witness of God is this, tpat God gave to us eternal life, and that this life is in his. Son.
.God is light. But light diffused cannot be seen; we
60 INTUITIONS NEED A CORRECTIVE
see by it, but we do not see it; it will not be recognized, unless it is concentrated; hence the sun, the physical luminary. So no man has seen God at any time— "whom no man has seen or can see "; the invisible God needs to be manifested; hence the Son, the spiritual luminary. Finite beings will always need more than "the light that lighteth every man," need more than the diffused light of nature and conscience and intuition. Even in heaven that diffused light is not enough, for " though they need no candle nor light of the sun " because " the Lord God gives them light," it is expressly declared that "the lamp thereof is the Lamb "—in Christ alone is God's light concentrated and made visible to his creatures.
Emerson's intuitions are not a trustworthy expression of the infinite Reason.) They are colored by finiteness and sin. They lack the sense of the ideal. They unduly magnify the physical. In Brahminism, such intuitions glorify the lustful and the base. They turn might 1nto right, and the self into God. Intuition needs the corrective of special revelation, and that revelation is given to us in Christ. Authority is, therefdfre, neither purely objective on the one hand, nor purely subjective on the other, for man is neither permanently infantile, nor fully mature; he is not wholly dependent upon human teachers, nor does he discover all truth himself. Christianity is, first, objective manifestation of truth, in the Sun and the Son; then, secondly, subjective appropriation of truth, by the cooperation of spirit with Spirit; that is, of the human spirit with the divine Spiritr—y
What is the place of the Bible in this revelation? I
PLACE OF THE BIBLE IN REVELATION 6l
reply that the Bible is a telescope between man and God; it is the rending of a veil. We do not worship the telescope, on the one hand, nor, on the other hand, do we refuse to use it . It is an authority in astronomy. Similarly, the written records of Christianity are our authority in religion. Give them up, trust your intuitions, and you may have Christian Science, or pantheism, or Romanist worship of Virgin and saints, and a hierarchy that destroys human freedom. Give up historic Christianity, and you put an end to Christian life and experience. Faith in the authority of Scripture is perfectly consistent with free inquiry as to the method of its evolution and inspiration. No criticism, higher or lower, can destroy its life. The total teaching of the Bible is ascertainable on all points that are essential to salvation; for salvation is dependent not on the book, but on the person of Jesus Christ, who is revealed in the book. Union with Christ is the one essential, and belief in Scripture and the church is incidental. The Bible record of historic facts and of past experience is authority for us, because it makes known Christ and brings us in contact with him. The Bible does not take the place of Christ; its authority is not original; it simply reveals Christ, who is the authority.
All this throws light upon one of the great heresies of modern theology, this namely, that the Bible is only a record of human experiences, and not a revelation from God. What is to prevent God from revealing himself through those very experiences? Why may he not so utter his messages that they shall be actual voices from on high? Grant that the revelation is pro
62 ORIENTAL IMMANENCE
gressive. Still may we believe in the unity, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture.
Oriental immanence contributed a final element to Emerson's transcendentalism. The doctrine of the 'Over-Soul, in which every man's particular being is f contained, is indeed the central principle of his think| ing. He regarded God as immanent, not only in nature, but also in man; one Mind is common to all men; and each man is a new incarnation. \ " I am part and parcel of God,'/he said. "The simplest person, who in his integrity worships God, becomes God." Both nature and humanity were in this way so glorified that strange inferences were sometimes drawn. He called mandarin oranges "Christianity in apples." A story is current that, at the opera, Emerson and Margaret Fuller were gazing at the ballet, when Miss Fuller remarked, "Ralph, this is poetry!" and he replied, "Margaret, this is religion!"
Doctor Harrison, of Kenyon College, has written a valuable book on "The Teachers of Emerson," in which he aims to disclose the sources of Emerson's doctrine. He traces it back ultimately to Plato, though he grants that Neoplatonism had greater influence upon Emerson than had Plato himself. Plato certainly taught the ineffable unity of all being, by reason of its participation in the divine ideas. But this was not the peculiar doctrine of Emerson. He taught the immanence of an active God in humanity and the mystical union of humanity with Deity. He found this doctrine in the Neoplatonic speculations of the Alexandrian Plotinus, and the ecstatic utterances of the Hindu Vedas fell in with his thought. He was not a profound stu
Emerson's Eclect1c1sm 63
dent of the mystics, any more than he was a profound student of the philosophers. He was no great scholar, and it was mainly translations that he read. But he had a way of appropriating whatever suited his purpose; like Moliere he could say, "Je prends mon bien ou je le trouve." Tauler, Fox, Swedenborg, furnished him with material, and he did not disdain to borrow from the Persian Saadi and Omar Khayyam. He made his own whatever in all literature asserted the presence and energy of God in every particle of the uerse and in every human soul.
If Spinoza could be called " a God-intoxicated man," Emerson was even better entitled to this designation; for while Spinoza's God was only Nature, Emerson's God still retained some of the attributes of personality derived from Calvinism. The survival of elements belonging to Emerson's ancestral religion is indeed all that rescues his work from gross idolatry of nature. In so many words, he denied God's personality: " I say that I cannot find, when I explore my own consciousness, any truth in saying that God is a person, but the reverse. . . To represent him as an individual is to shut him out of my consciousness." But let us be just to Emerson. By personality, he may mean nothing but limitation to an individual. He also says: "I deny personality to God, because it is too little, not too much. Life, personal life, is faint and cold, to the energy of God. For Reason and Love and Beauty, or that which is all these—it is the life of life, the reason of reason, the love of love." Emerson should have remembered that it is finiteness, and not personality, that implies limitation: an infinite personality may be
unlimited. And, as will in man is the highest and most inclusive attribute of his personality, we cannot deny personality to God without depriving him of will. Such denial makes him identical with nature and not its informing Spirit; conterminous with nature and not above it. And since all we know of nature we know from the processes of our own minds, God is identified with those processes; we have no knowledge of him as existing apart from ourselves; we find God only within our own souls; he is immanent but not transcendent. Thus transcendentalism contradicts itself and becomes self-deification.] It is the precise opposite of the Scripture representation, which speaks of God as not only "ball," and " through all," but also " above all." The God whom the Bible recognizes as immanent is a God of will, as well as of power; a God of wisdom and love and holiness; a God who can come down in special ways to his creatures; and who can reveal himself in Christ, as their Saviour from the penalty and the power of sin. The God of Emerson, on the other hand, is a mere abstraction, a mere idealization of nature. He tells us that
Conscious Law is King of kings.1
But he might also have called Law unconscious, for he denied to it personality; and Doctor Ware said well, in criticism of Emerson's doctrine: "Law, truth, love, are no Deity. There must be some Being, to exercise these attributes. There is a personal God, or there is no God."
1" Woodnotes," II.
THE IMMANENCE OF CHRIST 65
We can appreciate the gravity of this error, if we contrast Emerson's view of nature with that of another Puritan, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards escapes from Emerson's moral indifference, and from his blindness to personality in God, by recognizing in nature the presence and working of Jesus Christ, in whom all things were created and in whom all things consist. Edwards writes:
"He who, by his immediate influence, gives being every moment, and by his Spirit actuates the world, because he inclines to communicate himself and his excellencies, doth doubtless communicate his excellency to bodies, as far as there is any consent or analogy. And the beauty of face and sweet airs in men are not always the effect of the corresponding excellencies of the mind; yet the beauties of nature are really emanations or shadows of the excellencies of the Son of God. So that, when we are delighted with flowery meadows and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we see only the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ. When we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see his love and purity. So the green trees and fields, and singing of birds, are the emanations of his infinite joy and benignity. The easiness and naturalness of trees and vines are shadows of his beauty and loveliness. The crystal rivers and murmuring streams arc the footsteps of his favor, grace, and beauty. When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud, or the beauteous bow, we behold the adumbrations of his glory and goodness, and, in the blue sky, of his mildness and gentleness. There are also many things wherein we may behold his awful majesty: in the sun in his strength, in comets, in thunder, in the hovering thunder-clouds, in ragged rocks and the brows of mountains. That beauteous light wherewith the world is filled in a clear day is a lively shadow of his spotless holiness, and happiness and delight in communicating himself. And doubtless this is a reason why Christ is compared so often to these things, and called by their names, as the Sun of Righteousness, the Morning Star, the Rose of Sharon, and 66 THE TRUE TRANSCENDENTALISM
Lily of the Valley, the apple tree among the trees of the wood, a bundle of myrrh, a roe, or a young hart. By this we discover the beauty of many of those metaphors and similes which to an unphilosophical person do seem so uncouth. In like manner, when we behold the beauty of man's body in its perfection, we still see like emanations of Christ's divine perfections, although they do not always flow from the mental excellencies of the person that has them. But we see the most proper image of the beauty of Christ when we see beauty in the human soul."
This is the true transcendentalism, which sees in all nature Christ's manifestation of a personal and loving God. But this is plainly not the transcendentalism of Emerson.
Our author said to Dr. William Hague that fresh readings of the Quaker writers had intensified his conviction that we must outgrow externalismi. George Fox always remained one of his heroes; though, as Doctor Van Dyke remarks, he was himself " kept sane by his New England sense and humor." He saw how indistinct was the line that separated religious ecstasy from hysterical frenzy. Yet the inner light seemed to him the only medium of divine communication. Why should we not enjoy religion by revelation to us, he thought, instead of getting it through others? This suggests the fundamental defect in Emerson's character. Both Henry James and John Morley have pointed out that Emerson had no sense of sin. He / regarded his soul as the unresisting organ of the OverVSoul, and serene self-sufficiency characterized all his writing and all his action.J He needed no teacher. His own finiteness and limitation never led him to distrust his own powers; his own sinfulness and guilt never
EMERSON WITHOUT A SENSE OF SIN 67
taught him dependence on a Redeemer. His was not the humility of the little child which Jesus himself exemplifies, and which he makes the condition of entrance into his kingdom. Rather do we find in him a Stoic confidence that all is well, and an ignoring of the evil aspects of life, both in himself and in others. "The riddle of the painful earth "—human sin and shame and death—this has escaped the notice of the Sphinx, and the result is that Emerson lacks sympathy for the fallen and understanding of the world's great need. He had no experience of the Inferno of guilt and retribution, such as a keen conscience gave to Dante, and therefore he could know nothing of the Paradiso of the forgiven, nor of the Purgatorio of repentance and faith that prepares men for blessedness and likeness to God. He thought Dante "a man to put in a museum, but not in his house."
Emerson's overgrown self-trust disdained to recognize himself as a sinner. "They that are whole need not a physician." He taught that man's shortcoming, is not sin, but only a necessary stage in this progress. It is the " green apple theory " of moral evil. Sin is a green apple, which needs only time and sunshine and growth to bring it to ripeness and beauty and usefulness. But alas! our sin is not a green apple that can be ripened by growth, but an apple with a worm at the heart, whose progress, if left to itself, is toward rottenness and ruin. Sin is apostasy and revolt of man's free will, which only supernatural means can cure. Emerson's false premise that we must look to physics, rather than to ethics, for our interpretation of God's being, leads him to the false conclusion that sin is
68 "GREEN APPLE THEORY" OF EVIL
a necessity in the uerse, and that it always results in good. When man's free will is left out of the ccount, there is no such thing as guilt or just condemnation. In all evil man is ignorantly seeking good:
"The fiend that man harries
Is love of the Best;
Yawns the pit of the Dragon,
Lit by rays from the Blest.
The Lethe of Nature
Can't trance him again,
Whose soul sees the perfect,
Which his eyes seek in vain.
"Pride ruined the angels,
Their shame them restores;
Lurks the joy that is sweetest
In stings of remorse.'"
Out of the good of evil born,
Came Uriel's voice of cherub scorn,
And a blush tinged the upper sky,
And the gods shook, they knew not why*
If these mysterious lines mean only that the forces of the uerse are by an omniscient and beneficent will made even in spite of themselves to help the cause of truth and righteousness, they might be regarded as a cryptic declaration of Paul's doctrine that all things work together for good to them that love God. "Write it on your heart," says Emerson, "that every day is the best day in the year." Yes, we reply, if this means that our best days in the past have not exhausted God's power and love. But if it asserts an automatic inclination of evil toward good and that sin
"The Sphinx." * " Uriel."
S1n 1ts Own Remedy 69
is its own remedy, it teaches pernicious error. That this latter interpretation may be suspected to be the correct one finds some justification in Enjerson's poem "The Park ":
The prosperous and beautiful
To me seem not to wear
The yoke of conscience masterful,
Which galls me everywhere.
Yet spake yon purple mountain,
Yet said yon ancient wood,
That Night or Day, that Love or Crime,
Leads all souls to the Good.
Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
Friends, kindred, days,
Estate, good fame,
Plans, credit, and the Muse,—
Stealing grace from all alive;
When half-gods go,
The gods arrive.*
I cannot spare water or wine,
Tobacco-leaf, or poppy, or rose;
From the earth-poles to the Line,
All between that works or grows,
Everything is kin of mine.
Too long shut in strait and few,
Thinly dieted on dew,
I will use the world, and sift it,
To a thousand humors shift it,
As you spin a cherry.
* " Give All to Love."
JO DISCORD NECESSARY TO HARMONY
O doleful ghosts, and goblins merry!
O all you virtues, methods, mights,
Means, appliances, delights.
Reputed wrongs and braggart rights,
Smug routine, and things allowed,
Minorities, things under cloud!
Hither! take me, use me, fill me,
Vein and artery, though ye kill me!"
One thing is forever good;
That one thing is Success,—
Dear to the Eumenides,
And to all the heavenly brood.
Who bides at home, nor looks abroad,
Carries the eagles, and masters the sword.*
These quotations show how far Emerson was from recognizing evil as a " body of death " which required a Deliverer. \jjt is only a discord necessary to perfect harmony; it is only the dark background without which we could not appreciate the bright; it is indeed the soil from which truth and goodness must emerge.) " Our crimes," he says, " may be lively stones, oufof which we shall construct the temple of the true God.'.!/ We must even see in moral evil a manifestation of God's
Higher far into the pure realm,
Over sun and star,
Over the flickering Daemon film,
Thou must mount for love;
Into vision where all form
Into one only form dissolves;
In a region where the wheel
On which all beings ride
Where the starred, eternal worm
"ev1l Good, And Good Ev1l" y\
Girds the world with bound and term;
Where unlike things are like;
Where good and ill,
And joy and moan,
Melt into one.7
"Woe to them that call evil good, and good evil," said the ancient prophet. (.Yet this ignoring of sin is the fundamental error of Emerson's teaching.) There can be no question about his sincerity, and the sweetness and cheerfulness of his disposition. He had never experienced serious conflicts with his own nature, and he seldom, if ever, was conscious of moral imperfection. In his early life indeed he writes: " Milton was enamored of moral perfection. He did not love it more than I. That which I cannot declare has been my angel from childhood until now. It has separated me from men. It has driven sleep from my bed. It has tortured me for my guilt. It has inspired me with hope." And his poem entitled "Grace" has lines which seem almost Christian:
How much, preventing God, how much I owe
To the defences thou hast round me set;
Example, custom, fear, occasion slow,—
These scorned bondmen were my parapet.
I dare not peep over this parapet
To gauge with glance the roaring gulf below,
The depths of sin to which I had descended,
Had not these me against myself defended!
But the remedy is all in self and not in God. Self, indeed, is an effluence and manifestation of God:
'" The Celestial Love."
72 SALVATION BY CHARACTER
So nigh is grandeur to our dust.
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, / can."
'; The essence of Christianity," he says, "is in its practical morals." We must summon up our better nature, our lofty ideals, our strength of will:
Freedom's secret wilt thou know?—
Counsel not with flesh and blood;
Loiter not for cloak or food;
Right thou feclest, rush to do."
There is little comfort here for the sin-sick and despairing. Emerson preaches salvation by character, when man's first need is salvation from character. Yet we must concede that he presents a winning picture of Pelagian virtue. Father Taylor, the seaman's preacher, was severely orthodox, but when Emerson died, and some one intimated a doubt of his eternal fate, Taylor gallantly remarked: "Well, if Emerson has gone to hell, all I can say is that the climate will speedily change, and immigration will rapidly set in. He might think this or that, but he zvas more like Jesus Christ than any one I have ever known. The devil will not know what to do with him." But this same Father Taylor gave it as his verdict that " Emerson knows no more of the religion of the New Testament than Balaam's ass did of the principles of Hebrew grammar."
8 " Voluntaries." * " Freedom.'
All that I have said thus far is meant as an introduction to his poetry, and to the understanding of its theological significance. Emerson's conception of poetry will help us here. To him the poet was the emancipated man, lifted into consciousness of his divine K Original, with insight into the hidden meaning of the world, and foresight of the end to which the world is hastening:
The free winds told him what they knew,
Discoursed of fortune as they blew;
And on his mind at dawn of day
Soft shadows of the evening lay.10
But he does not regard this elevation and ecstasy as peculiar to the poet: it is only an intensification of moods that belong at times to the common man:
In the deep heart of man a poet dwells
Who all the day of life his summer story tells."
For this reason the poet appeals to the uersal heart of man; he rouses in us the same emotions that swayed himself; he teaches us the habit of thinking for ourselves. Emerson counted among "the traits common to all works of the highest art that they are uersally intelligible, that they restore to us the simplest states of mind."
■ " The Poet." » " The Enchanter."
74 CHARACTERISTICS OF TRUE POETRY
That wit and joy might find a tongue,
And earth grow civil, Homer sung.u
To clothe the fiery thought
In simple words succeeds,
For still the craft of genius is
To mask a king in weeds.13
This is the first of Milton's essential characteristics of poetry: it must be "simple, sensuous, passionate." But Emerson is not true to his own principle. He is not always simple, he is not always intelligible, and he is generally cold in temper rather than impassioned. The philosopher and the seer too often interfere with the poet. He must needs plunge into the unknown, and disclose things beyond all power of human speech:
Ever the Poet from the land
Steers his bark and trims his sail;
Right out to sea his courses stand,
New worlds to find in pinnace frail."
And when he has found truth undiscovered before, he must give it utterance in ways that will stir men's hearts by their novelty, even though they break with every tradition of meter and of rhyme. I doubt / whether Emerson was ever consciously sensational, but his lordly method is not the method of true poetry, when he writes:
Great is the art,
Great be the manners, of the bard.
He shall not his brain encumber
With the coil of rhythm and number;
But, leaving rule and pale forethought,
11 " Solution." u " Quatrains." "" Quatrains."
SUBSTANCE WITHOUT FORM IN EMERSON 75
He shall aye climb
For his rhyme.
'Pass in, pass in,' the angels say,
'In to the upper doors,
Nor count compartments of the floors,
But mount to paradise
By the stairway of surprise.'"
We have seen that Emerson had no ear for music. A It is also plain that he never grappled with metrical problems, or realized that the laws of harmony are laws of God. He can make such imperfect rhymes as worm and form, pans and romance, feeble and people, abroad and Lord, sodden and forgotten, hear and are, shrine and within. There is a jerkiness and dissonance about many of his verses which reveal a fundamental artistic defect, as well as a careless audacity. We must credit him with the substance of , poetry, but must deny that he has mastered its forrn^ He is a stranger to the melody of Shelley; and, though Goethe was one of his demigods, that supreme literary artist did not influence him to follow his example. The result is an obscure and disjointed verse, with occasional bursts of trumpetlike and thrilling beauty * while the real power of his writing is to be found mainly in his prose. I cannot assent to Stedman's characterization of him as "our most typical and inspiring poet." Theodore Parker called Emerson "a poet lacking the accomplishment of verse "—which means that his gift was that of poetical prose. Matthew Arnold said well that Emerson's is the most important work of the nineteenth century in prose, as Wordsworth's is the
« " Merlin."
yd Emerson's 1dea Of God
most important work of that same century in poetry; and to that estimate we may well subscribe.
When I seek to illustrate Emerson's theological ideas by citations from his verse, I am met with the ever-outstanding fact that all his poetry is an endless reiteration of one great truth, together with an ignoring of the other truth which prevents it from having all the effect of error. There is a pendulum swing in human thought. Divinity and humanity, fate and freedom, each has its rights. Woe be to the age that builds its system of thought upon either one to the exclusion of the other! The pendulum will certainly swing to the opposite extreme. New England had become Arminian and sterile; the fountains of the great deep needed to be broken up; Emerson showed us an open heaven and a present God. In this he did a service to his generation. "Unlovely, nay, frightful," he says, " is Vihe solitude of the soul without God."' But this recognition passes immediately into identification. \The soul that recognizes God becomes itself God, and God him
\self becomes another name for our human life and activity:
This is Jove, who, deaf to prayers,
Floods with blessings unawares.
Draw, if thou canst, the mystic line
Severing rightly his from thine,
Which is human, which divine.
i What God is this, who cannot or will not hear the
\ prayers of his worshipers and who is indistinguishable
from ourselves? This is indeed the Roman Jove; it is
not our Father who is in heaven. The pagan God is
not God at all, but only an idol of the human imagi
EMERSON S VIEW OF PRAYER "JJ
nation, a creation of our human selfishness and sin. The blessings with which he floods us unawares come from no mind of justice or heart of love. No communion with him is possih1e;fhg is simply the irnpersonalspjrit of the uerse, the nature-god of pantheism, a ffod, who has no eye to pity and no arm to save in the stern emergencies ot men's need.
What was Emerson's doctrine of prayer? He certainly did not believe in petition for specific gifts or blessings. That, to his mind, would be impudence, and insult to law and Lawgiver. "Prayer that craves a particular commodity, anything less than all good, is vicious." "Men's prayers are a disease of the will, as their creeds are a disease of the intellect." Yet prayer \ is natural to man; it may lift him into harmony with I the divine will; it may give him new insight and cour-/ age. lit will be sheer perversion to expect any alteration 1n things external to ourselves.] Emerson gave up public prayer, as he gave up the Lord's Supper, because he regarded it as encouraging superstition:
When success exalts thy lot,
God for thy virtue lays a plot:
And all thy life is for thine own,
Then for mankind's instruction shown;
/ 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.1*
O, when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?"
M " Prayer." "" Good-bye."
78 THE "PISTAREEN PROVIDENCE"
In the name of Godhead, I
The morrow front, and can defy;
Though I am weak, yet God, when prayed,
Cannot withhold his conquering aid.18
But God's " conquering aid " is really nothing but the new determination of the human soul, and God is but a figure of speech:
Around the man who seeks a noble end,
Not angels but divinities attend."
Emerson scoffs at the "pistareen Providence" of George Miiller and his Orphan Houses. Piety, he thinks, is here "pulled down to the pantry and the shoe-closet, till we are distressed for fresh air, God coming precisely as he is called for, to the hour and minute." Yet Jesus said, " Ask, and ye shall receive "; and Paul urges us, " in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving," to let our "requests be made known unto God." Emerson's God does not hear and cannot answer prayer.
He spoke of " the burdensome doctrine of a Deity." But he meant only to clear himself of definitions, and to accept whatever impressions came to him, mutually contradictory though they might be. This gives an appearance of fairness to his writings, though it really shows that he had no settled belief with regard to the most serious questions that vex the soul. "Cannot I trust the Goodness that has uplifted to uphold me?" he says. "I cannot find in the world, without or within, any antidote, any bulwark, against this fear,
18 " The Nun's Aspiration." u " Life."
TRUTH WHAT MEN TROW 79
like this: the frank acknowledgment of unbounded dependence. Let into the heart that is filled with prosperity the idea of God, and it smooths the giddy precipices of human pride to a substantial level." He can even acknowledge "the wholesomeness of Calvinism for thousands and thousands. I would not discourage their scrupulous religious observances." Calvinism, he holds, " is an imperfect version of the moral law. Unitarianism is another." "It is well for my Protestantism that there is no Cathedral in Concord. Unitarians forget that men are poets. . . I have very good grounds for
.being a Unitarian, and for being a Trinitarian too. . .
^The highest revelation is that God is in every manj Our reason is not to be distinguished from the divine essence; and all forms of doctrine are but shadows and symbols of invisible reality."
Ever the Rock of Ages melts
Into the mineral air,
To be the quarry whence to build
Thought and its mansions fair.
Ascending through just degrees
To a consummate holiness,
As angel blind to trespass done,
And bleaching all souls like the sun.30
Oh what is Heaven but the fellowship
Of minds that each can stand against the
By its own meek and incorruptible will?*1
On this theory, truth is simply what men " trow," and \ things are what men " think." All reality is subjective. /
"" Life." a " Self-reliance," lines added in 1833.
8o THE INFINITUDE OF A MAN
In spite of these shortcomings, Emerson's positive doctrine was a blessing to New England. "The infinitude of the private man," and the possibility of his first-hand acquaintance with the Deity, were lessons which the church and the world greatly needed to learn. Sacraments and Bible were never intended as a substitute for direct communion with Christ. Much that our author says of God in the soul, and of the soul's expression of God in the world, is capable of a Christian interpretation. Emerson never reaches a greater height of imaginative fervor than in his poem entitled "The Problem," and this alone will give him enduring fame, when other works of his are forgotten, though even here there is mingled with a noble recognition of God's working in humanity a fatal denial of any worth in the externals of religion: j
I like a church; I like a cowl;
I love a prophet of the soul;
And on my heart monastic aisles
Fall like sweet strains, or pensive smiles:
Yet not for all his faith can see
Would I that cowled churchman be.
The hand that rounded Peter's dome
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome
Wrought in a sad sincerity;
Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than he knew;—
The conscious stone to beauty grew.
These temples grew as grows the grass;
Art might obey, but not surpass.
The passive Master lent his hand
To the vast soul that o'er him planned;
SLIGHTING ALLUSIONS TO CHRIST 81
And the same power that reared the shrine
Bestrode the tribes that knelt within.
Ever the fiery Pentecost
Girds with one flame the countless host.
One accent of the Holy Ghost
The heedless world hath never lost.
And yet, for all his faith could see,
I would not the good bishop be.
The final test of a poet's worth must be his conception of Christ. By his attitude toward our Lord he will be judged at the last day, and by that standard Christian people must judge him now. He who does not accept Christ as Lord of all fails to recognize him as Lord at all. To a Christian heart, Emerson's slighting and half-contemptuous allusions to Jesus are deeply painful. He seems to take pleasure in tearing the crown from the brow of our Redeemer. "My brothers, my mother, my companions, must be much more to me, in all respects of friendship, than he can be." He regards the incarnation as poorly expressing the eternal indwelling of God in man. He had wished that his son
Might break his daily bread
With prophet, savior and head;
That he might cherish for his own
The riches of sweet Mary's Son,
Boy-Rabbi, Israel's paragon.22 •
Christianity, he acknowledges, is "the most emphatic affirmation of man's spiritual nature. But not
■ " Threnody."
82 JESUS RANKED WITH THE GREAT
the only one, nor the last. There shall be a thousand more."
For what need I of book or priest,
Or sibyl from the mummied East,
When every star is Bethlehem star?
I count as many as there are
Cinquefoils or violets in the grass,
So many saints and saviors,
So many high behaviors
Salute the bard who is alive
And only sees what he doth give.a
Emerson ranks Jesus among the great men of the races. Christian associations, he says, are "the fruit of the life and teachings of the lowly Nazarene. An obscure man, in an obscure crowd, brought forward a new Scripture. His cross has been erected, and it has been to some a pillar of cloud, and to some a pillar of fire." But he puts our Lord side by side with Plato and Philo and Shakespeare:
One in a Judiean manger,
And one by Avon stream,
One over against the mouths of Nile,
And one in the Academe.3*
I see all human wits
Are measured by a few;
Unmeasured still my Shakspeare sits,
Lone as the blessed Jew."
If Emerson had taken conscience instead of nature for his guide, he would have found the key to the world's great problem, and would have appreciated the solution which is furnished in Jesus Christ, for
» " The Poet." !< " Song of Nature." a " Shakspeare."
"JESUS WOULD ABSORB THE RACE" 83
the revelation of saving love in Jesus Christ is the only remedy for the world's guilt and misery. But Emerson could see in Christ only the likeness of himself. He speaks condescendingly of "that best and dearest saint," "that excellent teacher whom God sent," " not a solitary, but still a lovely herald "; but he discountenances the "noxious exaggeration of the person of Jesus," and he banished that person from genuine religion. He praises "the lowliness of the blessed soul that walked in Judea and hallowed that land forever "; but he thought he could not himself be a man. if he " must subordinate his nature to Christ's nature." "Jesus would absorb the race," he said, "but Tom Paine, or the coarsest blasphemer, helps humanity by resisting this exuberance of power." He failed to see that Jesus not only absorbs but transforms, and that we grow, only by the impact of nobler souls than our own. The age-long yearning of the human race for God in human form made no impression on him. "That exalted person who died on Calvary," he thinks, "will be better loved by not being adored." "Only a barbarous state of society thought to add to his dignity by making him King, and God."
Emerson broke with his church and left the ministry because he could not celebrate the Lord's Supper—it implied a profounder reverence for Jesus than he could give him. "It seemed to me at church to-day," he says, "that the communion service, as it is now and here celebrated, is a document of the dulness of the race. How these, my good neighbors, the bending deacons, with their cups and plates, would have straightened themselves to sturdiness. if the proposition
84 "MANY SAINTS AND SAVIORS"
came before them to honor thus a fellow man!" Yes, verily! And it was only common honesty on Emerson's part, when he came to regard Jesus as only one of "many saints and saviors," to give up his clerical office and thenceforth substitute the lecture platform for the pulpit. His teaching was no longer "crippled by making it depend on Jesus." But it also became merely the fallible message of a human seer, instead of the power of God unto salvation. Of himself he said well, "I find in me no enthusiasm, no resources, for the instruction and guidance of the people."
A Nature-God cannot hate evil, for it is his creation, and a preliminary and partial manifestation of his own being. Though Emerson has been called the teacher of Puritan ethics, as Jonathan Edwards was the teacher of Puritan religion, it would be difficult to mention any principle more subversive of morals than is Emerson's dictum that moral evil is only privative, as darkness is only the absence of light. ( Sin is no longer the positive assertion of a godless will, but is merely the absence of knowledge, the.effect of ignorance, to be removed by education, j It is not enmity to God, or even unlikeness to him.' God is no longer holy, since sin is orA dained by him as a means of ultimate perfection. The selfishness and pride and hate and lust of man are only good in the making; the stumbling of the child in order that he may learn to walk. Emerson becomes, like Carlyle, a worshiper of successful force. Whatever is, is right, and his optimism can find good in Cain and in Judas. His poem entitled "Cupido" is a practical avowal of this pantheism:
WORSHIP OF SUCCESSFUL FORCE 85
The solid, solid uerse
Is pervious to Love;
With bandaged eyes he never errs,
Around, below, above.
His blinding light
He flingeth white
On God's and Satan's brood,
By mystic wiles
The evil and the good.
In his "Xenophanes" he propounds this same doctrine of absolute unity in its most extreme form:
Are of one pattern made; bird, beast and flower,
Song, picture, form, space, thought and character
Deceive us, seeming to be many things,
And are but one. Beheld far off, they part
As God and devil; bring them to the mind,
They dull its edge with their monotony.
To know one element, explore another,
And in the second reappears the first.
Over me soared the eternal sky,
Full of light and of deity;
Again I saw, again I heard,
The rolling river, the morning bird;—
Beauty through my senses stole;
I yielded myself to the perfect whole."
All this means, not that the world is the symbol of spirit, but that the world is spirit. "God is the life of all. Every mountain is a Sinai; every tree a burn-i ing bush; every breeze a still, small voice. /Each soul is an expression of the Over-Soul, and re1gns supreme over matter. 7 As positive and negative are two in
'Each and All."
separable poles of the magnet, so matter and mind, good and evil, are alike manifestations of the uersal Spirit. The poem "Cupido," in spite of its poetical beauty, and of the Christian interpretation which maybe given to its opening lines, is Hindu and pagan in essence. The author's poem " Brahma " indeed is only a rendering in English of that heathen and immoral philosophy:
If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain.
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.
Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.
They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt,
And I the hymn the Brahmin sings.
The strong gods pine for my abode.
And pine in vain the sacred Seven;
But thou, meek lover of the good!
Find me, and turn thy back on heaven.
What is this but a confounding of all moral distinctions? We should not wish never to have sinned, for sin is necessary to the development of holiness. "For the intellect,'' Emerson says. " there is no crime. . . Saints are sad. because they behold sin from the point of view of the conscience, and not of the intellect—a confusion of thought. . . Man, though in brothels or jails, or on gibbets, is on his way to all that is good and true. . . The carrion that rots in the
AMALGAMATION OF HEAVEN AND HELL 87
sun, the criminal who breaks every law of God and man, are on their way to blessedness. Evil is part of the discipline by which the soul is restored to union with the Over-Soul. The less we have to do with our sins, the better. No man can afford to waste his moments in compunctions." All evil is undeveloped good. This has been well called "the higher synthesis of the Devil and the Deity." If Emerson is not worthy of the title, which Carlyle invented for another, of "President of the Heaven and Hell Amalgamation Society," he certainly can be said to have devised an excuse for all human passion, and a slander upon the holiness of God.
When individual men become mere figureheads and automata for the divine inworking, they cease to be objects of our special regard. Emerson confessed his inability to enter into intimate personal relations with others. His friendships were of the cool intellectual sort; " there were fences between him and his dearest friends "; he was slow to appreciate or to advocate the cause of the slave; he cared for man in the abstract rather than for real men. The only God he knew was within his own soul. Paul declared that all things are ours because we enter into Christ's inheritance; Emerson held that all things are ours by original right, and that Christ enters into our inheritance instead:
\J I am owner of the sphere,
Of the seven stars and the solar year,
Of Casar's hand, and Plato's brain,
•f Lord Christ's heart, and Shakespeare's
"Motto to the " Essay on History."
88 MAN WRONGED
"In self-trust," he said, "all the virtues are compounded. Man has been wronged; men are of no account. The human mind cannot be enshrined in a person who shall set a barrier on any one side to this unbounded, unboundable empire." He questions the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount. One must not be hindered by consideration for others. The true end of being is development of the self. This seems dangerously near to Paul's description of " the man of sin," who "sits in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God." It is the "Overman" of Nietzsche, claiming the right to realize self and to put down all that stands in his way. It is the view of Ibsen, who, in "The Doll's House," makes Nora put self-realization before wifehood and motherhood. "Obligation to put all poor men into good situations?" says Emerson. "Are they my poor? . . I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent, I give to such men as do not belong to me, and to whom I do not belong." The least and lowest of all the sons of men had worth enough for Jesus to make him willing to suffer and die in his behalf. The parable of the Good Samaritan showed who is my neighbor. But the evangelization of men did not interest Emerson. He was greatly amused that the American Baptist Missionary Union attempted the conversion of France; and when asked what he would do with the Hottentots of Africa, he replied, "Just what I would do with one of their ant-hills— step on it." And in his poem " Alphonso " he writes:
Earth, crowded, cries, 'Too many men!'
My counsel is, Kill nine in ten,
Emerson's Debt To Chr1st 89
And bestow the shares of all
On the remnant decimal.
So shall ye have a man of the sphere,
Fit to grace the solar year.
And yet, all of Emerson's optimism, his recognition of God in nature, his love of country, his hope for the future, were drawn from Christ. These things were not, before Christ came. It is Christ who has glorified nature and man; it is he who has inspired hope for the individual and for society. The classic writers were pessimists; to them the world seemed given over to evil, and to be nearing destruction. Apocalypticism was only the reflection in religious minds of such fears as possessed Cicero and Seneca. The very dignity of man, which Emerson fancied to be his peculiar message and discovery, was the revelation of Him who thought each human soul of such worth that he died to save it. On this ladder Emerson has climbed to his calm faith in the divine indwelling and in man's certainty of progress. It was blindness and ingratitude in him to throw down the ladder by which he had climbed.
Let us be thankful for the truth he utters, though he is far from uttering the whole truth and nothing but the truth. We owe much to him for his insight into the meaning of nature. There is a spirit in matter; nothing in this world is dead; every leaf and every breeze is symbolic; God speaks to us in the heavens above and in the earth beneath:
Thou canst not wave thy staff in air,
Or dip thy paddle in the lake,
90 INSIGHT INTO MEANING OF NATURE
But it carves the bow of beauty there,
And the ripples in rhymes the oar forsake.
The wood is wiser far than thou;
The wood and wave each other know
Not unrelated, unaffied,
But to each thought and thing allied,
Is perfect Nature's every part,
Rooted in the mighty Heart.
Behind thee leave thy merchandise,
Thy churches and thy charities;
And leave thy peacock wit behind;
Enough for thee the primal mind
That flows in streams, that breathes in wind;
Leave all thy pedant lore apart;
God hid the whole world in thy heart .
All the forms are fugitive,
But the substances survive.
Ever fresh the broad creation,
A divine improvisation,
From the heart of God proceeds,
A single will, a million deeds.28
There are snatches and bursts of melody in the midst of tame and rambling verse, such as:
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky
Come see the north wind's masonry.
The frolic architecture of the snow.2"
For the world was built in order,
And the atoms march in tune;
Rhyme the pipe, and Time the warder,
The sun obeys them and the moon.w
M " Woodnotes," II. "" The Snow-storm." "" Monadnoc."
BURSTS OF MELODY 91
Brother, sweeter is the Law
Than all the grace Love ever saw;
We are its suppliants. By it, we
Draw the breath of Eternity.*1
For the prevision is allied
Unto the thing so signified;
Or say, the foresight that awaits
Is the same Genius that creates.33
The sun set, but set not his hope:—
Stars rose, his faith was earlier up:
Fixed on the enormous galaxy,
Deeper and older seemed his eye,
And matched his sufferance sublime
The taciturnity of Time."
^'Tis not in the high stars alone,
n Nor in the cup of budding flowers,
j Nor in the redbreast's mellow tone,
Nor in the bow that smiles in showers,
But in the mud and scum of things
There alway, alway something sings
What Emerson says of Goethe we may well apply to himself:
Is he hapless who can spare
In his plenty things so rare?
With his view that man is immediately inspired by God, Emerson may be expected to be an apostle of human freedom. And so he is, if we look at man in the abstract, for individual men did not seem to him so worthy of his notice.
On prince or bride no diamond stone
Half so gracious ever shone,
As the light of enterprise
Beaming from a young man's eyes.TM
i The Poet." M " Fate." "" The Poet."
i Music." M Translations.
92 APOSTLE OF ABSTRACT FREEDOM
Ever in the strife of your own thoughts
Obey the nobler impulse; that is Rome:
That shall command a senate to your side;
For there is no might in the uerse
That can contend with love. It reigns forever."
The hero is not fed on sweets,
Daily his own heart he eats;
Chambers of the great are jails,
And head-winds right for royal sails.*7
He that feeds men serveth few;
He serves all who dares be true.TM
0 tenderly the haughty day
Fills his blue urn with fire;
One morn is in the mighty heaven,
And one in our desire. . .
For He that worketh high and wise,
Nor pauses in his plan,
Will take the sun out of the skies
Ere freedom out of man.3"
The " Boston Hymn," read in the Music Hall, January 1, 1863, is a stirring eulogy of American liberty:
The word of the Lord by night
To the watching Pilgrims came,
As they sat by the seaside,
And filled their hearts with flame.
God said, I am tired of kings,
1 suffer them no more;
Up to my ear the morning brings
The outrage of the poor.
* Written at Rome." ^ " Heroism."
'The Celestial Love." *• " Ode" at Concord.
EMERSON NOT A CONTROVERSIALIST 93
Come, East and West and North,
By races, as snow-flakes,
And carry my purpose forth,
Which neither halts nor shakes.
My will fulfilled shall be,
For, in daylight or in dark,
My thunderbolt has eyes to see
His way home to the mark.
He wrote an "Inscription for a Well in Memory of the Martyrs of the War ":
Fall, stream, from Heaven to bless; return as well;
So did our sons; Heaven met them as they fell.
Though love repine, and reason chafe,
There came a voice without reply,—
* 'Tis man's perdition to be safe,
When for the truth he ought to die.'"
But conflict was not our poet's native air. He was no reasoner and no controversialist. It took him a long time to realize that secession and rebellion in our Southern States must be put down. Lit has sometimes been said that he was never angry, and his unvarying serenity has been used to disparage our Lord's denunciations of Scribes and Pharisees. Such praise is virtual condemnation; for real love for the good is inseparable from indignation against the evil. The true God is not indifferent to moral relations— he is a God of fearful justice, of awful purity, of searching love, and holiness is fundamental in his being. Frothingham, in his " Transcendentalism in New England," intimates that Emerson was not devoid of indignation against wrong, and tells us that he could
■ " Sacrifice."
94 SWEETNESS AND BENIGNITY
imitate Jesus' doom of the barren fig tree. He certainly denounced Daniel Webster and spoke of that "filthy Fugitive Slave Law," which Webster commended to New England. When Sumner was smitten, he said, "I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom." But such wrath was exceedingly rare. Henry James remarks that Emerson " never caught a glimpse of the cherubim and the flaming sword, but put forth his hand direct to the tree of life." Sweetness and benignity characterized his common demeanor. I He moved among men as one whose head was in the clouds, and who was oblivious of the petty jangling and contention of sublunary affairs. ,? He dealt with principles rather than with detail?; with pure rather than with applied science. (" I live wholly from within," he said. John Morley classes him with Rousseau, Robespierre, and Carlyle, as "beginning with sentiment and ignoring reason "; as having " great feeling for right, but also great contempt for the only instruments by which we can make sure what right is." And we may add that Emerson would have been less tranquil, but more useful, if he had recognized an external divine revelation. He saw "no urgent necessity for Heaven's last revelation, since the laws of morality had been written before, and philosophy had lively dreams of immortality." Here we see that our poet conceived of Christianity, not as God's gift of pardon for the violation of law. nor as God's gift of power to obey law, but solely as an ethical philosophy which throws men back upon their own insight and ability—a sorry resource for a convicted sinner.
VIEW OF IMMORTALITY 95
Did Emerson belie_Y& ''n pprsnnql immortality? It is very doubtful. If God is impersonal, and man is to be merged at last in God, the less faith we have in individual existence beyond the grave, the better. Yet, with the mystics, he did not believe in annihilation. "God upholds us with his uncreated power," he says, "and keeps the soul still herself." And some of his interpreters, like Cooke, maintain that he rejects the individual, local, and selfish, but retains the personal, divine, and eternal. One can find in his writings occasional utterances that encourage faith. "Life is not long enough for art, or for friendship," he declares. "The soul does not age with the body." He is " sure I that in the other life we will be permitted to finish the work begun in this." But then he also says: " A future state is an illusion for the ever-present state. It is not duration, but a taking of the soul out of time." He believes in the future, only herause he hasJoOd in the prese.pt But whether we shall know each other beyond the grave is "a school-dame question." Even the "Threnddy," which expresses his grief at the death of his beautiful young son, gives us no certain assurance that he ever expected to meet him again. In the shadow of that affliction he wrote to Carlyle: "I dare not fathom the Invisible and Untold, to inquire what relations to my departed ones I yet sustain." He speaks of "the inarticulateness of the Supreme Power," and asks: "How can we insatiate hearers, perceivers, and thinkers, ever reconcile us to it? My divine temple, which all angels seemed to love to build, was shattered in a night." This is surely far short of the comfort which Christ gives to his dis
ciples, and it shows that in his sorrow our author needed more than any inner light could give him. The "Threnody" is painful reading to one who believes that Christ has brought life and immortality to light in his glorious gospel, and it reminds us of the sad and uncertain inscriptions upon the monuments of the dead in classic times. Listen to these words:
The South-wind brings
Life, sunshine and desire,
And on every mount and meadow
Breathes aromatic fire;
But over the dead he has no power,
The lost, the lost, he cannot restore;
And, looking over the hills, I mourn
The darling who shall not return.
Not mine,—I never called thee mine,
But Nature's heir,—if I repine,
And seeing rashly torn and moved
Not what I made, but what I loved.
Grow early old with grief that thou
Must to the wastes of Nature go,—
'Tis because a general hope
Was quenched, and all must doubt and grope.
What is excellent,
As God lives, is permanent;
Hearts are dust, hearts' loves remain;
Heart's love will meet thee again.
Revere the Maker; fetch thine eye
Up to his style, and manners of the sky.
Silent rushes the swift Lord
Through ruined systems still restored,
Broadsowing, bleak and void to bless,
Plants with worlds the wilderness;
A LIKENESS TO SCHLEIERMACHER 97
\ Waters with tears of ancient sorrow
! Apples of Eden ripe to-morrow.
i House and tenant go to ground,
1 Lost in God, in Godhead found.
Schleiermacher's touching address at the funeral of his only son furnishes a remarkable parallel to this poem. They both exhibit a calm confidence that all is well, without certainty of future reunion. So far as Emerson was concerned, Jesus might never have lived, and might never have opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. He would have been content, he said, "to be a good Roman in the days of Cicero. I burn after the 'aliquid immensum infinitumque' which Cicero desired." Like Marcus Aurelius, he had the self-repression and the self-assertion of the Stoic. Calm and benignant, a New England Brahmin, living in an upper lur of thought, he had no eye for the tragedy of the world and for its need of redemption. He moved among men with something of Goethe's majestic composure. Doctor Holmes tells us that he was fully six feet in height, but spare in build and weighing only one hundred and forty pounds. Blue eyes, brown hair, sloping shoulders, all marked him for an idealist. He had no ear for music, never indulged in loud laughing, was no mathematician or mechanic. The seeing eye was his, as he himself said, but not the working hand. He was never hungry, though he always had pie for breakfast, and only replied to Oliver Wendell Holmes's remonstrance with the naive question, "Why, what is pie for?" He rose at seven, drank coffee and tea, and took to his bed at ten in the evening. He complained of his
§8 PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS
own debility, procrastination, and inefficiency; yet he was instant in season and out of season at his work of reading, thinking, and writing; so that the amount of his literary product, though small in poetry, is in prose extraordinarily large.
Emerson was not only sincere in his thinking—he was also honest in his utterances. The condensation and pithiness of every sentence in his conversation and in his writing were the fruit of much pondering of phrase. "To give the thought just and full expression," he says, " I must not prematurely utter it. It is as if you let the spring snap too soon." We know what is meant by " going off at half-cock." There was something attractive and impressive in his frequent waiting for the proper word, and in his triumphant se1zure of that word when it came to mind. This painstaking, however, became too much «f a habit, and it led to paralysis. In his latter days he was afflicted with great loss of memory. First the names of persons, and then the names of the most familiar things, passed from him. /But this affliction seemed never to
disturb his tranquillity! He smiled at himself; took
i ■ 1 ■ ■
the needed word from others, went on in perfect composure. It was affecting to see him at the funeral of Longfellow. He paid respect by his presence to one of his lifelong friends, a poet like himself, and one more widely popular. At the close of the serv1ce he turned to ms companion and said: "The gentleman whose funeral we have been attending was a sweet and beautiful soul, but—I have forgotten his name." And in less than a twelvemonth Emerson had followed Longfellow.
He was what he was, and we must value the gopd, even while we deprecate theeyil. He grasped one of the greatest truths, and that one trutli, gave him a resting-place and fortress from which he could look out calmly upon the world. As years increased, he could write:
Spring still makes spring in the mind
When sixty years are told;
Love wakes anew this throbbing heart,
And we are never old;
•ver the winter glaciers
I see the summer glow,
And through the wild-piled snow-drift,
The warm rosebuds below."
Good-bye, proud world! I'm going home:
Thou art not my friend, and I'm not thine.
Long through thy weary crowds I roam;
A river-ark on the ocean brine,
Long I've been tossed like the driven foam;
But now, proud world! I'm going home."
When frail Nature can no more,
Then the Spirit strikes the hour;
My servant Death, with solving rite,
Pours finite into infinite."
And in all literature there are few anticipations of death more composed and stalwart than Emerson's poem entitled "Terminus ":
It is time to be old,
To take in sail:—
The god of bounds,
Who sets to seas a shore,
Came to me in his fatal rounds,
And said, ' No more!
« " The World-Soul." "Goodbye." - " Threnody."
IOO A NON-ETHICAL JUONIST
No farther shoot
Thy broad ambitious branches, and thy root.
Fancy departs: no more invent;
Contract thy firmament
To compass of a tent.'
As the bird trims her to the gale, I trim myself to the storm of time, p" I man the rudder, reef the sail,
Obey the voice at eve obeyed at prime:
'Lowly faithful, banish fear,
Right onward drive unharmed;
The port, well worth the cruise, isfc1ear,
And every wave is charmed.'
This is beautiful and impressive; but it gives no ground for trust to a sinner. The apostle has a better hope; knows whom he has~believed; and is persuaded that he will keep that which he has committed to him against the great inevitable day. Aye, more than this, he has a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a monist. He held that there is but one substance, ground, or principle of being, namely, God. Scripture asserts this doctrine, when it teaches the divine omnipresence and immanence. If Emerson had taught only this, he might have been of unqualified benefit to his generation. But Scripture teaches other truths which qualify this—I mean the truth of God's transcendence and personality, and the truth of man's distinct personality as reflecting the personality of God. There are two sorts of monism— an ethical monism which recognizes these ethical facts in God and in man, and a non-ethical monism which ignores or denies them. It was a non-ethical monism
THE AUTHORITY OF NATURAL IMPULSE IOI
to which Emerson held. Deity so absorbed humanity that there was little room left for freedom, or responsibility, or sin, or guilt, or atonement, or retribution. Unitarianism demonstrated its logical insufficiency by its lapse from ethical standards. The high Arianism of Channing degenerated into the halffledged pantheism of Emerson. While we recognize the great truth which Emerson proclaimed—the truth of metaphysical monism, or the doctrine of one substance, principle, or ground of being—we must also insist on the complementary truth which he ignored or denied—the truth of psychological dualism, or the doctrine that man's soul is personally distinct from matter on the one hand, and from God on the other.
Emerson did not regard himself as a pantheist. He cared little for names. He was bent only upon seizing whatever truth there was in pantheism, while he still held to the essentials of theism. But he was unconsciously influenced by naturalistic prepossessions, and he did not sufficiently realize that natur<* must fy* intejr"-"tfid ''y ""ni Qr,f1 not man by nature. The God that nature gave him was a God devoid of moral attributes, a God who was author of evil as well as of good, a God who manifested himself only in law, a God
/who could hold no personal intercourse with his creatures, a God incapable of revelation or redemption. Man is thrown back upon his own powers. The only God he knows is in his own soul. An exaggerated self-appreciation takes the place of worship; natural impulse becomes the only authority; self-realization is ^ the only end. Thus a non-ethical monism is ultimate
\deification of self, and Emerson is "the friend and
102 THE DRIFT OF EMERSON' S INFLUENCE
aider of those who would live in the spirit," not in the sense of leading them to receive and obey the Spirit of God, but by blinding them to the truth and giving them over to the spirit of evil.
In his early days Emerson quoted with approbation our Saviour's words, "If ye do my Father's will, ye shall know of the doctrine." It was not an exact quotation, but it had awakened a responsive emotion in his heart. We are led to wonder what Emerson's influence would have been, if he had heeded that admonition and had yielded his allegiance to him whom God has sent to reveal and to save. That matchless gift of fresh and incisive utterance might then have been used in winning men to Christ, whereas it has often drawn men away from him; it might have led men through Christ to God, whereas it has often held before them a vague abstraction which eludes while it attracts. The God of the pantheist is no God for the ignorant or the sinful or the dying. In so far as he taught men of a present God in nature and in history, we can apply to him the words of Christ, "He that is not against us is for us." But in so far as he ignored and denied Christ's deity and atonement and authority, Dr. William Hague's judgment upon Emerson must be ours—a judgment all the more fitting because it repeats the words of Christ himself: "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathered! not with me scattereth abroad."
Emerson died on the twenty-seventh day of April. 1882. Cabot tells us, very simply and beautifully, that on the following Sunday, April the thirtieth, in Sleepy Hollow, a grove consecrated as a burial-place on the
IN THE CATHEDRAL OF NATURE IO3
edge of the village of Concord, and at the foot of a tall pine tree upon the top of the ridge in the highest part
. of the grounds, Emerson's body was laid, not far from the graves of Hawthorne and of Thoreau, and surrounded by those of his kindred. His mortal remains rest in the Cathedral of Nature, whose life he strove to absorb and to interpret; and since he uttered at least some truth of value to his generation and to the world,
: we may still say:
Speak no more of his renown,
Lay your earthly fancies down,
And in the vast cathedral leave him,
God accept him, Christ receive himl
JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER