« 上一頁繼續 »
It assumed innate ideas; it found no reason for questioning the assumption; and the innate ideas which it most insisted on concerned not so much body and mind as soul and spirit. Just as the normal body is born with a sense of touch or of sight, the Transcendentalists held, the normal soul and spirit are born with a sense of right and wrong. So, less certainly but very probably, the normal mind is born with a sense of truth and falsehood. Very good; when a question is presented, all you need do is to inquire of yourself whether it is true. Answer yourself earnestly, and the question is settled. This is particularly true when the question concerns right and wrong. Human nature is good; you are made right, — mind, body, soul, spirit, and all. Obey yourself, and you need have no fear.
All things worth serious interest transcend human experience; but a trustworthy clew to them is to be found in the unfathomable excellence of human minds, souls, and spirits.
Though very possibly no single Transcendentalist would have accepted so baldly stated a creed, some such system may be conceived as the Platonic ideal toward which Transcendentalists generally tended. You can understand them best by comparing one and all with such a generalised type, which no one precisely represented. With a temper which, however it began, soon developed into this hopefully impalpable philosophy, the more ardent youths who grew up in Boston when its theology was dominated by Unitarianism, and when its scholarship was at last so enlarged as to include the whole range of human learning, faced whatever human records they could find, to prove and to hold fast those which were good.
The influences thus brought to bear on New England were almost innumerable, but among them two or three were specially evident. The most important was probably German thought, at a time when German philosophy was most metaphysical and German literature most romantic. This, indeed, had had great influence on contemporary England. No
two men of letters in the nineteenth century affected English v thought more evidently than Coleridge and Carlyle ; and
both were saturated with German philosophy. To New England these influences swiftly spread. In 1800, it has been said, hardly a German book could be found in Boston. Before Channing died, in 1842, you could find in Boston few educated people who could not talk with glib delight about German philosophy, German literature, and German music. Another thing which appears very strongly in Transcendental writings is the influence of French eclectic philosophy. At one time the names of Jouffroy and Cousin were as familiar to Yankee ears as were those of Locke or Descartes or Kant. Perhaps more heartily still this whole school of enthusiastic seekers for truth welcomed that wide range of modern literature, English and foreign alike, which was at last thrown open by contemporary scholars so distinct from them in temper as the Smith Professors, – Ticknor and Longfellow and Lowell.
For this almost riotous delight in pure literature there was a reason now long past. The Puritans generally had conscientious objections to fine art. So only at the moment to which we are now come could the instinct of native New England for fine art conscientiously be satisfied. Now, the fine arts, however else they may be classified, may pretty certainly be divided into two groups : those of which the masterpieces may be indefinitely reproduced and those of which each masterpiece must inevitably remain unique. Architecture, for example, must remain permanently settled on the foundations laid for each building; a great painting can exist only in the one place where it is actually hung, and a great statue in that where it actually stands. During the last twenty or thirty years, to be sure, the astonishing development of photography has to some degree extended the range of plastic arts. Until long after the Transcendental period, however, processes of reproduction were at once so costly and so uncertain that architecture, painting, and sculpture could be appreciatively studied and enjoyed only by people who could travel to where masterpieces exist. With music the case was decidedly different. Musical scores can be carried anywhere ; so in general can musical instruments; and provided that you brought to New England proper scores, proper instruments, and tolerably trained musicians, you could have in New England pretty good music. When it came to poetry, things were better still. All you had to do was to import the books in which the masterpieces of poetry were printed; then every educated man could read the masterpieces for himself.
Nowadays music and literature are as familiar in Boston as anywhere in the world; and along with this familiarity has come, as always comes, a definite standard of taste, which combines with awe-stricken respect for established reputations to make everyday people feel more at ease in the presence of works which need not be taken seriously. Seventy years ago the Renaissance of New England was in no aspect more typically renascent than in the unfeigned eagerness with which its love of novelty delighted in the excellences of those newly found fine arts, poetry and music. The masterpieces of music gave people some such unfeigned delight as is now found only in popular tunes. The masterpieces of poetry similarly delighted them as genuinely and as spontaneously as nowadays people are delighted by sensational novels, or plays from the French. Scholarly criticism had not yet murdered spontaneous appreciation.
The Transcendental youth of New England delighted in excellent modern literature and excellent modern music as unaffectedly as fifteenthcentury Italians delighted in the freshly discovered manuscripts of classic Greek.
At the same time these Transcendentalists were native Yankees; and true native Yankees always yearn for absolute truth. A characteristic result followed; they really delighted in literature with all the fervour of a race which had been æsthetically starved for five or six generations; with equal fervour they believed their interest in literature to be
largely conditioned by the fact that literature can teach us ✓ how we ought to behave.
In the second number of the “ Dial ” is a paper, attributed to Emerson, which oddly illustrates this. He speaks of doubts which may linger concerning the excellence of the age in which he has the good fortune to flourish; and goes on thus:
“How can the age be a bad one which gives me Plato and Paul and Plutarch, Saint Augustine, Spinoza, Chapman, Beaumont and Fletcher, Donne, and Sir Thomas Browne, beside its own riches ? "
Whether Emerson wrote this passage or not, his collected works teem with similar evidence of his guileless confusion of values, a trait strongly characteristic of our earlier Renais
His father and his grandfather, and those who had gone before, had known their Bibles, their Latin classics, and perhaps a little Greek, had had fairly distinct notions of the Common Law, and had regarded Beaumont and Fletcher, if they had ever heard of them, as sinfully obscene playwrights. Emerson, turning to Beaumont and Fletcher, found what is truly there, - many examples of noble and beautiful Elizabet han aphorism. He might equally have found what his ancestral tradition emphasised, endless depths of corruption; but these did not attract his attention. The inner light told him that the beauties were virtues and the basenesses faults. He chose to regard the beauty as essential, the baseness as accidental; and in his admiration for the superb phrasing of decadent Elizabethan dramatists he threw them into the same category with Plato and Augustine, in a temper much like that which has made dogmatic theology group the Song of Solomon with the Epistles of the apostle Paul.
By 1832 a considerable group of Transcendentalists had arisen in Boston, agreeing in little else than the eager scope of their interest and investigations, and their desire to attain absolute truth by other means than that of previously accepted authority. In a certain aspect, as we have seen, their impulse closely resembled that of the Unitarians half a generation before. It may be distinguished from Unitarianism, however, by its unrestrained ardour. In this the Transcendentalists unwittingly reverted to the old native type. With the Unitarians they held, though not literally, that man is made in God's image. Very well: God, morally perfect, has only to look within Himself and know what is true and right; let us, made in His image, do likewise. Truth and Right are absolute things; we shall find them within ourselves, and from their deepest essential nature they cannot mislead us. The Puritans, of course, had strenuously denied any such dogma as this; the light which God vouchsafed to them was vouchsafed through no secret faculties of their forlornly lost human nature, but only in scriptural phrases, which must be duly interpreted by orthodox parsons. During the heyday of the Puritans, however, there had Aourished a kind of spiritual thinkers as like them in temperament as they were different in doctrine, and therefore held the most dangerous of heretics. These were the Quakers, like Woolman, who measured truth by that inner light which they believed that the grace of God vouchsafes to every human being. The Transcendentalists were too far from orthodox to trouble themselves about a Christian God, but they believed in the inner light as enthusiastically as ever Quakers did, and they followed it almost as ardently.
The intensity of their emotional nature not only distinguished them from contemporary Unitarians, but carried them to greater lengths than even their Puritan ancestors. When Unitarians got beyond the range of human senses, they phrased the unknowable almost as conventionally as the Puritans themselves, talking of God, of Heaven, of Hell; and so did the Quakers. The Transcendentalists, with all the en