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safe enough, and even a kind of duty in these circumstances, to invite them to try.
The name of Ralph Waldo Emerson is not entirely new in England : distinguished travellers bring us tidings of such a man; fractions of his writings have found their way into the hands of the curious here; fitful hints that there is, in New England, some spiritual notability, called Emerson, glide through Reviews and Magazines. Whether these hints were true, or not true, readers are now to judge for themselves a little better.
Emerson's writings and speakings amount to something :and yet hitherto, as seems to me, this Emerson is, perhaps, far less notable for what he has spoken or done, than for the many things he has not spoken and has forborne to do. With uncommon interest I have learned that this, and in such a neverresting locomotive country too, is one of those rare men who have withal the invaluable talent of sitting still !
That an educated man of good gifts and opportunities, after looking at the public arena, and even trying not with ill success, what its tasks and its prizes might amount to, should retire for long years into rustic obscurity; and, amid the all-pervading jingle of dollars, and loud chaffering of ambitions and promotions, should quietly, with cheerful deliberateness, sit down to spend his life, not in Mammon-worship, or the hunt for reputation, influence, place, or any outward advantage whatsoever: this, when we get notice of it, is a thing really worth noting. As Paul Louis Courrier said: “ Ce qui me distingue de tous mes contemporains c'est que je n'ai pas la prétention d'être roi." my contemporaries;”-poor contemporaries! It is as if the man said, Yes, ye contemporaries, be it known to you, or let it remain unknown, there is one man who does not need to be a king; king neither of nations, nor of parishes or cliques, nor even of cent-per-annums; nor, indeed, of anything at all, save of himself only. “ Realities ?" Yes, your dollars are real, your cotton and molasses are real ; so are Presidentships, Senatorships, celebrations, reputations, and the wealth of Rothschild : but to me, on the whole, they are not the reality that will suffice. To me, without some other reality, they are mockery, and amount to zero, nay, to a negative quantity. ETERNITIES surround this god-given life of mine : what will all the dollars in creation do for me? Dollars, dignities, senate-addresses, review-articles, gilt coaches, or cavalcades, with world-wide huzzaings and parti-coloured beef-eaters, never so many: 0 heaven, what were all these ? Behold, ye shall have all these, and I will endeavour for a thing other than these. Behold, we will entirely agree to differ in this matter ; I to be in your eyes nothing, you to be something, to be much, to be all things :wherefore, adieu in God's name; go ye that way, I go this ! Pity that a man, for such cause, should be so distinguished from all his contemporaries! It is a misfortune partly of these our peculiar times. Times and nations of any strength have always privately held in them many such men. Times and nations that hold none, or few, of such, may indeed seem to themselves strong and great, but are only hulky, loud; no heart or solidity in them ;-great, as the blown bladder is, which by and by will collapse and become small enough!
For myself, I have looked over with no common feeling to this brave Emerson, seated by his rustic hearth, on the other side of the Ocean (yet not altogether parted from me, either), silently communing with his own soul, and with the God's world it finds itself alive in yonder. Pleasures of Virtue, Progress of the Species, Black Emancipation, New Tariff, Eclecticism, Locofocoism, ghost of improved Socinianism : these, with many other ghosts and substances, are squeaking, jabbering, according to their capabilities, round this man: to one man among the sixteen millions their jabber is all unmusical. The silent voices of the stars above, and of the green earth beneath, are profitabler to him, tell him gradually that these others are but ghosts, which will shortly have to vanish; that the life-fountain these proceeded out of does not vanish! The words of such a man, what words he finds good to speak, are worth attending to. By degrees, a small circle of living souls, eager to hear, is gathered. The silence of this man has to become speech: may this, too, in its due season, prosper for him! Emerson has gone to lecture, various times, to special audiences, in Boston, and occasionally elsewhere. Three of those Lectures, already printed, are known to some here; as is the little
pamphlet called Nature, of somewhat earlier date. It may be said, a great meaning lies in these pieces, which as yet finds no adequate expression for itself. A noteworthy, though very unattractive work, moreover, is that new periodical they call The Dial, in which he occasionally writes, which appears, indeed, generally to be imbued with his way of thinking, and to proceed from the circle that learns of him. This present little volume of Essays, printed in Boston a few months ago, is Emerson's first book. An unpretending little book, composed, probably, in good part, from mere lectures which already lay written. It affords us, on several sides, in such manner as it can, a direct glimpse into the man, and that spiritual world of his.
Emerson, I understand, was bred to Theology; of which primary bent his latest way of thought still bears traces. very enigmatic way, we hear much of “the universal soul,” of the &c., &c. : flickering like bright bodiless northern streamers, notions and half-notions of a metaphysic, theosophic, theologic kind are seldom long wanting in these Essays. I do not advise the British public to trouble itself much with all that;
still less, to take offence at it. Whether this Emerson be " a Pantheist, or what kind of Theist or Ist he may be, can perhaps as well remain undecided. If he prove a devout-minded, veritable, original man, this, for the present, will suffice. Ists and Isms are rather growing a weariness. Such a man does not readily range himself under Isms. A man to whom the “ of the universe” is no longer a closed one, what can his speech of it be in these days ? All human speech, in the best days, all human thought that can or could articulate itself in reference to such things, what is it but the eager stammering and struggling as of a wondering infant,-in view of the Unnameable! That this little book has no system,” and points or stretches far beyond all systems, is one of its merits. We will call it the soliloquy of a true soul, alone under the stars, in this day. In England, as elsewhere, the voice of a true soul, any voice of such may
be welcome to some. For in England, as elsewhere, old dialects and formulas are mostly lying dead; some dim suspicion, or clear knowledge, indicates on all hands that they are as good as dead; and how can the skilfullest galvanizing make
them any more live? For they are dead : and their galvanic motions, O heavens, are not of a pleasant sort! That one man more, in the most modern dialect of this year 1841, recognizes the oldest everlasting truths : here is a thing worth seeing, among the others. One man more who knows, and believes of very certainty, that man's soul is still alive, that God's universe is still godlike, that of all ages of miracles ever seen, or dreamt of, by far the most miraculous is this age in this hour; and who, with all these devout beliefs, has dared, like a valiant man, to bid chimeras, “ Be chimerical ; disappear, and let us have an end of you!”—is not this worth something? In a word, while so many Benthamisms, Socialisms, Fourrierisms, professing to have no soul, go staggering and lowing like monstrous mooncalves, the product of a heavy-laden moonstruck age; and, in this same baleful "twelfth hour of the night,” even galvanic Puseyisms, as we say, are visible, and dancings of the sheeted dead.-shall not any voice of a living man be welcome to us, even because it is alive?
For the rest, what degree of mere literary talent lies in these utterances, is but a secondary question, which every reader may gradually answer for himself. What Emerson's talent is, we will not altogether estimate by this book. The utterance is abrupt, fitful; the great idea not yet embodied struggles towards an embodiment. Yet everywhere there is the true heart of a man;
which is the parent of all talent; which without much talent cannot exist. A breath as of the green country,—all the welcomer that it is New-England country, not second-hand, but first-hand country,-meets us wholesomely everywhere in these Essays; the authentic green earth is there, with her mountains, rivers, with her mills and farms. Sharp gleams of insight arrest us by their pure intellectuality; here and there, in heroic rusticism, a tone of modest manfulness, of mild invincibility, lowvoiced, but lion-strong, makes us too thrill with a noble pride. Talent ? Such ideas as dwell in this man, how can they ever speak themselves with enough of talent? The talent is not the chief question here. The idea, that is the chief question. Of the living acorn you do not ask first, How large an acorn art thou? The smallest living acorn is fit to be the parent of oak
trees without end, -could clothe all New England with oaktrees by and by You ask it, first of all: Art thou a living acorn ? Certain, now, that thou art not a dead mushroom, as the most are ?
But, on the whole, our book is short : the Preface should not grow too long. Closing these questionable parables and intimations, let me, in plain English, recommend this little book as the book of an original veridical man, worthy the acquaintance of those who delight in such ; and so; Welcome to it whom it
London, 11th August, 1841.