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biography of Emerson, calls the movement an outburst of Romanticism ; by “Romanticism” he means something very like what we have called the revolutionary spirit, - a phase of that world movement which had shown itself in Europe more than a generation before. On Continental Europe this had expressed itself in the excesses of the French Revolution. In England it had expressed itself in that outburst of romantic poetry which made the first third of the nineteenth century a distinct epoch in English letters. The human nature of New England meanwhile asserted its independence of tradition in the vagaries of an ideal philosophy, and in a fervid assertion of the right of individuals to seek truth each for himself. This enfranchised Yankee human nature may perhaps seem vague, untutored, far from wise ; but whatever its errors, and whatever the limits of its good sense, one fact about Transcendentalism must be evident
to those who are most sensible of its humourous aspect. Throughout it was aspiring; and its aspiration had a touch of almost unearthly sweetness and purity. The old dogmas of the Puritans had taught that uncontrolled human nature must instantly reveal itself as damnable. To any honest mind the human nature of nineteenth-century New England, in the first enfranchisement of Transcendentalism, must seem as far from damnable as if damnation had never darkened the dreams of humanity.
RALPH WALDO EMERSON
As time passes, it grows more and more clear that by far the most eminent figure among the Transcendentalists, if not indeed in all the literary history of America, was Ralph Waldo v Emerson. Born at Boston in 1803, and descended from a long line of ministers, he was as truly a New England Brahmin as was Cotton Mather, a century and a half before. His father was minister of the First Church of Boston, already Unitarian, but still maintaining unbroken the organisation which had been founded by John Cotton at the settlement of the town. The elder Emerson died early. His sons were brought up in poverty; but they belonged on both sides to that hereditary clerical class whose distinction was still independent of so material an accident as fortune. In 1821 Waldo Emerson graduated from Harvard College, where, as his “ Notes on Life and Letters in New England ” record, the teaching of Edward Everett was filling the air with renascent enthusiasm. After graduation Emerson supported himself for a few years by school-teaching, studying meanwhile his hereditary profession of divinity. In 1829 he was made colleague to the Reverend Henry Ware, Jr., pastor of the Second Church in Boston. This was the church which had remained for above sixty years in charge of the Mathers. His ministerial career, then, began in lineal succession to Cotton Mather's own.
Mr. Ware, infirm in health, soon resigned ; and before Emerson was thirty years old, he had become the regular minister of the Second Church.
On the oth of September, 1832, he preached there the sermon which brought his pastoral career to a close. The subject was the Lord's Supper, and his text was: “ The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Rom. xiv. 17.”—“In the history of the Church,” he begins, “no subject has been more fruitful of controversy than the Lord's Supper. There never has been any unanimity in the understanding of its nature, nor any uniformity in the mode of celebrating it.” He goes on with a long paragraph stating various divergencies of custom in sacramental observance, and then proceeds:
“I allude to these facts only to show that, so far from the supper being a tradition in which men are fully agreed, there has always been the widest room for difference of opinions upon this particular. Having recently given particular attention to this subject, I was led to the conclusion that Jesus did not intend to establish an institution for perpetual observance when he ate the Passover with his disciples; and, further, to the opinion, that it is not expedient to celebrate it the
way we do."
The body of the sermon is devoted to a cool statement of his reasons for this conclusion and opinion; and at the end comes the decision at which he had arrived :
"Influenced by these considerations, I have proposed to the brethren of the Church to drop the use of the elements and the claim of authority in the administration of this ordinance, and have suggested a mode in which a meeting for the same purpose might be held, free of objection.
“My brethren have considered my views with patience and candour, and have recommended, unanimously, an adherence to the present form. I have therefore been compelled to consider whether it becomes me to administer it. I am clearly of the opinion I ought not. This discourse has already been so far extended that I can only say that the reason of my determination is shortly this:– It is my desire, in the office of a Christian minister, to do nothing which I cannot do with my whole heart. Having said this, I have said all. I have no hostility to this institution; I am only stating my want of sympathy with it. Neither should I ever have obtruded this opinion upon other people, had I not been called by my office to administer it. That is the end of my opposition, that I am not interested in it. I am content that it stand to the end of the world, if it please men and please Heaven, and I shall rejoice in all the good it produces."
“ I am content that it should stand to the end of the world,” but “I am not interested in it,”. that is the view expressed of the holiest mystery of Christianity by a man who stood for three years in the pulpit of Cotton Mather. It is doubtful whether the whole literature of heresy contains two phrases which to any mind still affected by traditional Christian faith must seem more saturated with serene insolence.
Serenely insolent, at least to orthodox Christians, Emerson remained all his life. This life was far from eventful. After giving up his pastorate he supported himself as a lecturer, occasionally preaching. He went abroad for a year, beginning that friendship with Carlyle which resulted in their lifelong correspondence. In 1836 appeared his first book, “ Nature,” beautiful, serene, obscure, stimulating, permeated with the idealism which was the basis of his philosophy. In 1837 he gave, before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard College, his celebrated address on “ The American Scholar,” of which the closing paragraph is among the most articulate assertions of his individualism :
“ If the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him. Patience, – patience; with the shades of all the good and great for company; and for solace the perspective of your own infinite life; and for work the study and communication of principles, the making those instincts prevalent, the conversion of the world. Is it not the chief disgrace in the world not to be an unit; - not to be reckoned one character; not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was created to bear, but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred, or the thousand, of the party, the section, to which we belong; and our opinion predicted geographically, as the north or the south ? Not so, brothers and friends, - please God, ours shall not be so. We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands ; we will speak our own minds. The study of letters shall no longer be a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual indulgence. The dread of man and the love of man shall be a wall of defence and a wreath of joy around all. A nation of men 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