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The following pages are intended as an introduction to the study of the writings of Mr. Emerson. They are biographical only because light may be thrown upon his books by the events of his life. Little effort has been made to open his personal history. As with all such minds, most of what is truly biographical is in his letters and diaries. Yet the life of Mr. Emerson has been in his thoughts, and these are in his books.
Such has been his influence on the thought and life of our time, some word ought to be said which will help the younger generation to a fuller understanding of the debt we owe him. With the hope of doing this service, and of helping many to find the riches contained in his books, the following pages were written.
The work attempted here has been solely one of interpretation, and not of defense or criticism. No effort has been made to measure Mr. Emerson's philosophy from the standpoint of any other. While the author does not always accept that philosophy as his own, he has ventured not to intrude any hint of it into his interpretation. He has attempted to enter into its spirit, to expound it from the stand-point of
ardent sympathy, and to permit Mr. Emerson to speak for himself as often as possible. He has written as a disciple rather than as a critic, not because he sees nothing to criticise, but because he feels that in this way alone can full justice be done the subject. That he is sufficiently the disciple to have made a correct delineation of the man and his teachings he certainly hopes may be the case.
In the chapters devoted to Mr. Emerson's philosophical and religious views, frequent reference has been made to those who have held similar opinions. This is done for the purpose of giving a clearer insight into the attitude and the affinities of his thought. The quotations introduced are intended as helps towards a truer comprehension of the subject, and not as containing opinions which Mr. Emerson would himself always accept. Read with this qualification, it is believed they will throw much light upon his speculations. They should be read, too, as implying no doubt of the remarkably original character of Mr. Emerson's philosophy.
A chapter has been prepared on Mr. Emerson's reported abandonment of his religious position of former years. Mature consideration has led to its omission. Mr. Emerson needs no such vindication. An attentive perusal of the following pages, it is believed, will prove the falsity of that report. The author has looked carefully into the subject, and finds it to be entirely without confirmation.
The following brief statement of facts concerning the two supposed proofs of the truth of this report is sufficient to prove their falsity. The appeal to Mr. Emerson's recently published essays is rendered nugatory by the fact that those essays were all written many years ago, long before any one
He can well believe in it, for it has done much in his behalf. Broad and generous culture, a strong love_of moral excellence, high and pure thoughts, he inherited from his forefathers. Burroughs says 1 his culture is ante-natal, and it is certain that his ancestry had in it the promise of much which his life has fulfilled. If heredity had no exceptions, his would be an admirable instance of its laws of operation. He is such a
as might be looked for in the case of such an ancestry; rather, his is such an ancestry as we would look for in the case of such a man.
(Eight generations of cultured, conscientious, and practical ministers preceded him. In each generation they held the most advanced positions in religious thought; and to write their history, especially in their relations to the religious movements with which they were connected, would be to write the history of NewEngland religion.) Emerson is no more physically the child of bis Puritan ancestors than he is intellectually and spiritually. When the generations which preceded him are remembered, we can better understand why there should be this fine bloom of thought in the
1 Birds and Poets, p. 195.
western world; and we then find how native is the best in his culture and thought.
The historian of Concord 1 has traced Emerson's ancestry back to the beginning of the thirteenth century, when one of the English barons, who secured Magna Charta of King John, was Lord Manor of Bulkeley, in the county of Chester. His name was Robert Bulkeley; and Shattuck gives the names of his descendants down to Edward Bulkeley, D.D., who was rector at Woodhill, Bedfordshire, in the last quarter of the sixteenth century, and who wrote a supplement to Fox's Book of Martyrs. The family was one of some importance; a member of it having been a prominent co-worker with Cromwell, and several others were ennobled. Edward was a faithful pastor and preacher, and seems to have been the first of the family to enter this profession. One of his sons, Peter, was born at Odelĩ, Bedfordshire, Jan. 31, 1582. He was admitted to St. John's College, Oxford, at the age of sixteen, and, in due course of time, succeeded to his father's pulpit and benefice. Like many of the other preachers of the time, he was a Puritan in his tendencies, and did not conform to the church service. His bishop connived at this, and permitted it for twenty-five years, when the matter was brought to the attention of Archbishop Laud, who at once silenced him. In consequence, he decided to come to America; and many members of his congregation bore him company. He was a man of prominence and ability, a capable leader of men, and competent to guide in the enterprise of forming a new town in the wilds of America. He landed in Boston late in the year 1634, and remained in Newtown, afterwards Cambridge, for nearly a year. Of the reasons for coming to America, Emerson has said,
“ The best friend the Massachusetts colony had, though much nyainst his will, was Archbishop Laud in England. "In consequence of his famous proclamation setting up certain novelties in the rites of public worship, fifty godly ministers were suspended
1 A History of the Town of Concord, by Lemuel Shattuck.