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will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.”
In the following year, his address before the Divinity School at Cambridge carried his gospel of individualism to a point which staggered even that heretical seminary. Full of theoretical liberalism, its authorities had deliberately invited to their baccalaureate pulpit a self-disfrocked divine, who had discarded the Lord's Supper because he happened not to find it interesting. What he said frightened Harvard theology itself back toward at least Unitarian orthodoxy. Here are two bits of his unfettered exhortation :
“Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those which are sacred in the imagination of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil. ... Thank God for these good men, but say, 'I also am a man.' Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.
“ Yourself a new-born bard of the Holy Ghost, cast behind you all conformity, and acquaint men at first hand with the Deity.
“ I look for the hour when that supreme Beauty which ravished the souls of those eastern men, and chiefly of those Hebrews, and through their lips spoke oracles to all time, shall speak in the West also. The Hebrew and Greek Scriptures contain immortal sentences, that have been bread of life to millions. But they have no epical integrity; are fragmentary; are not shown in their order to the intellect. I look for the new Teacher that shall follow so far those shining laws that he shall see them come full circle; shall see their rounding complete grace; shall see the world to be the mirror of the soul; shall see the identity of the law of gravitation with purity of heart; and shall show that the Ought, that Duty, is one thing with Science, with Beauty, and with Joy."
In such spirit as these earlier works show, he went on lecturing and writing all his life, incidentally, it is said, displaying practical good sense. Although he never made a fortune, he managed to lay by more money than most of his literary contemporaries and to provide for a comfortable old age. He lived until 1882. Plenty of Boston people not yet past middle age still remember his figure, which so beautifully embodied the gracious dignity, the unpretentious scope, and the unassuming distinction of those who led the New England Renaissance.
Emerson's work is so individual that you can probably get no true impression of it without reading deeply for yourself. To many this may be irksome. Like all powerful individualities, his can hardly leave a reader indifferent ; you will be either attracted or repelled, and if repelled, the repulsion will very likely make the reading demand a strenuous act of will. But any
student of American letters must force himself to the task; for Emerson, thinking, talking, writing, lecturing from that Concord where he lived during the greater part of his life, produced, in less than half a century, work which as time goes on and as the things which other men were making begin to fade, seems more and more sure of survival. America produced him ; and whether you like him or not, he is bound
As one grows familiar with his work, its most characteristic trait begins to seem one which in a certain sense is not individual at all, but rather is common to all phases of lasting literature.
Classical immortality, of course, is demonstrable only by the lapse of cumulating ages. One thing, however, seems sure: in all acknowledged classics, - in the great works of antique literature, sacred and profane alike, and, to go no further, in the great poetry of Dante or of Shakspere, - there proves to reside a vitality which as the centuries pass shows itself less and less conditioned by the human circumstances of the writers. No literary expression was ever quite free from historical environment. Homer one poet or many belongs to the heroic age of Greece; Virgil, or Horace, to Augustan Rome; Dante to the Italy of Guelphs and Ghibellines ; Shakspere to Elizabethan England. But take at
random any page from any of these, and you will find some
, thing so broadly, pervasively, lastingly human, that generation after generation will read it on with no sense of the changing epochs which have passed since the man who spoke this word and the men for whom it was spoken have rested in immortal slumber. In the work of Emerson, whatever its final value, there is something of this note. Every other writer at whom we have glanced, and almost every other at whom we shall glance hereafter, demands for understanding that we revive our sympathy with the fading or faded conditions which surrounded his conscious life. At best these other works, vitally contemporaneous in their own days, grow more and more old-fashioned. Emerson, on the other hand, from beginning to end, seems constantly modern, with a contemporaneousness almost as perennial as that of Scripture itself. Though his work may lack something of true greatness, it surely seems alive with such unconditioned freedom of temper as makes great literature so inevitably lasting.
Take, for example, the first page at which a volume of his Essays " chances to open, that where the verse is printed with which he prefaced his essay on “Spiritual Laws ” :
“ The living Heaven thy prayers respect,
House at once and architect,
What this means we may admit ourselves unable to understand; but with all due vexation or humility, we can hardly help feeling that here is not a word or even a lurking mood
which might not have emerged from eldest human time, or might not as well emerge from the most remote human future our imagination can conceive. In essence throughout, Emerson's work bids fair to disregard the passing of time; its spirit seems little more conditioned by the circumstances of nineteenth-century Concord or Boston than Homer's was by the old Ægean breezes.
In form, on the other hand, Emerson's work seems almost as certainly local. Broadly speaking, it falls into two classes, — essays
and poems. The essays are generally composed of materials which he collected for purposes of lecturing. His astonishing lack of method is familiar; he would constantly make note of any idea which occurred to him ; and when he wished to give a lecture, he would huddle together as many of these notes as should fill the assigned time, trusting with all the calm assurance of his unfaltering individualism that the truth inherent in the separate memoranda would give them all together the unity implied in the fact of their common sincerity. But though this bewildering lack of system for a moment disguise the true character of his essays,
the fact that these essays were so often delivered as lectures should remind us of what they really are.
The Yankee lecturers, of whom Emerson was the most eminent, were only half-secularised preachers, – men who stood up and talked to
- – ancestrally attentive audiences. And these eager hearers were disposed at once to respect the authority of their teachers, to be on the look-out for error, and to go home with a sense of edification. Emerson's essays, in short, prove to be an obvious development from the endless sermons with which for generations his ancestors had regaled the New England fathers. In much the same way, Emerson's poems, for all their erratic oddity of form, prove on consideration to possess many qualities of temper for which an orthodox mind would have sought expression in hymns. They are designed not so much to set forth human emotion or to give æsthetic delight as to stimulate
moral or spiritual ardour. For all his individualism, Emerson could not help being a good old inbred Yankee preacher.
The orthodox clergy of New England, however, came, as truly as Paul himself, to preach Christ crucified. To say that preaching so various as Emerson's excludes anything, would be presumptuous. But certainly the impression produced by more than one examination of Emerson's writings goes far to warrant the assertion that the one thing which he ignored was the crucifixion.
a philosopher he respected and reverenced; but Christ the Redeemer, who takes upon Himself the sins of the world, interested him no more than the Lord's Supper. So far as Christ was a prophet, a speaker of beautiful and noble truth, a living example of stainless life, Emerson could reverently bow before him; but when it came to considering Christ as more divine than other good men, this same Emerson found the act as far from reasonable as asserting one day's sunshine superior to that of another. The Christian Scriptures he thought on the whole nobler than even the Greek, and still more so than those more remote ones with which he overloaded some later numbers of the « Dial.” All alike, however, great and small, interested him merely as guides, neither more nor less authoritative than such other guides as experience or the inner light. Each and all he valued only so far as they might help mankind toward perception of the truth which he felt it his business to preach. His business, he felt it, rather than his duty. That fact of “interest,” for lack of which he discarded the most sacred of all Christian traditions, really went to the depths of his nature. What interested him he was prepared to set forth so long as the interest lasted; what did not interest him he was equally prepared serenely to neglect, no matter what anybody else thought about it. He had, however, the native grace never to relax his interest in what he conceived to be the deepest of all truths ; namely, that beyond human ken there lie unfathomable, unseen, inexhaustible depths of reality. Into these depths