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a cent, and that dollars and cents are convenient things to have in pocket. When you think of him as a lecturer or as a writer of books, then, you find all the old contradiction in a new form. You go to him as a prophet; you find a kindly gentleman with a good-natured smile lurking in the corners of his lips, who seems to tell you : “ Dear me, I am no more of a prophet than you are. We are all prophets. If you like, I will look into the eternities with great pleasure, and tell you what I see there; but at the end of the business I shall present you with a little bill. If you will pay it, I shall receipt it, and dine a trifle better in consequence.”
He was the prophet of Transcendentalism, if you like; but, after all, his general manner and temper were less prophetic than those of conventional parsons who thunder forth divine authority. He was farther still from the authoritative prophets of antiquity. He did not passionately seek God and phrase his discoveries in the sacred mysteries of dogma. He was rather a canny, honest Yankee gentleman, who mingled with his countrymen, and taught them as well as he could; who felt a kindly humour when other people agreed with him, and troubled himself little when they disagreed; who hitched his waggon to star after star, but never really confused the stars with the waggon.
And so descending to Concord earth, we find in him a trait very characteristic of the period when he happened to live, and one at which he himself would have been the first goodhumouredly to smile. He was born just when the Renaissance of New England was at hand, when at last the old tripod of theology, classics, and law was seen not to be the only basis of the human intellect, when all philosophy and letters were finally opening to New England knowledge. With all his contemporaries he revelled in this new world of human record and expression. To the very end he never lost his consequent, exuberantly boyish trick of dragging in allusions to all sorts of personages and matters which he knew only by name. Take that sentence at which we glanced from his essay on Self-Reliance : « Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton.” These great names he mentions with all the easy assurance of intimacy; he could hardly speak more familiarly of seven Concord farmers idling in a row on some sunny bench. Turn to him anywhere, and in any dozen pages you will find allusions as complacent as these, and about as accidental, to the bewilderingly various names at which his encyclopedia chanced to
open. He had, in short, all the juvenile pedantry of renasV cent New England at a moment when Yankees had begun to
know the whole range of literature by name, and when they did not yet distinguish between such knowledge and the unpretentious mastery of scholarship.
It is now nearly twenty years since Emerson's life gently faded away, and it is a full sixty since his eager preaching or prophecy of individualistic, idealism stirred renascent New England to its depths. We have been trying to guess what Emerson may mean in permanent literature. To understand what he means historically, we must remind ourselves again of the conditions which surrounded his maturity. When he came to the pulpit of the Second Church of Boston, the tyranny of custom, at least in theoretical matters, was little crushed. Heretical though Unitarianism was, it remained in outward form a dominant religion. Statesmanship and scholarship, too, were equally fixed and rigid ; and so, to a degree hardly conceivable to-day, was the structure of society. Even today untrammelled freedom of thought, unrestrained assertion of individual belief, sometimes demands grave self-sacrifice. In Emerson's day it demanded heroic spirit.
To say that Emerson's lifelong heroism won us what moral and intellectual freedom we now possess would be to confuse the man with the movement of which he is the great exemplar. As the years pass, however, we begin to understand that no other American writings record that movement half so vitally as his. As our individual freedom becomes more and more surely established, we may delight in Emerson more or less. According as our individuality responds or not to the idealism which touched him, we may find him repellent or sympathetic; and although it may hardly be asserted, it may fairly be surmised, that even in Emerson's most memorable utterances the future may find no considerable truth not better phrased by others. For in his effort to express truth, just as in his whole knowledge of life, he was limited by the national inexperience which throughout his time still protected New England. Yet whether or no, in generations to come, Emerson shall prove to have made lasting contributions to human wisdom, one thing which will remain true of him should commend him to the regard of all his countrymen who love spiritual freedom. We may not care for the things he said, we may not find sympathetic the temper in which he uttered them, but we cannot deny that when, for two hundred years, intellectual tyranny had kept the native American mind cramped within the limits of tradition, Emerson fearlessly stood forth as the chief representative of that movement which asserted the right of every individual to think, to feel, to speak, to act for himself, confident that so far as each acts in sincerity v good shall ensue.
Whoever believes in individualism, then, must always respect in Emerson a living prophet; and, just as surely, those who find prospect of salvation only in obedience to authority must lament the defection from their ranks of a spirit which, whatever its errors, even they must admit to have been brave, honest, serene, and essentially pure with all that purity which is the deepest grace of ancestral New England.
THE LESSER MEN OF CONCORD
CONCORD, Massachusetts, until Emerson's time celebrated as the place where the embattled farmers made their stand against the British regulars in 1775, is now even better known as the Yankee village where for half a century Emerson lived, and gathered about him a little group of the intellectually and spiritually enlightened. Until very lately, indeed, something of this atmosphere lingered in Concord air. Among the humours of New England for some fifteen years has been a Concord School of Philosophy, where of a summer fantastic people have collected to hear and to give lectures. And everybody has been happy, and no human being is known to have been harmed. When the Concord School of Philosophy began its blameless existence, however, what makes Concord memorable was no longer there : Emerson had passed away. Whatever Concord retained, it had lost that saving grace of sound good sense which is among Emerson's most certain claims to distinction.
This trait of his appears most clearly when we compare him with one or two of his fellow-townsmen. Of the men who flourished in Emerson's Concord, to be sure, the most eminent was Hawthorne, whose work belongs not to philosophy, but to pure letters, and whom we shall consider later. He would hardly have expected a place among the prophets of the eternities. At least two other men would have been disposed to call themselves philosophers, and, with artless lack of humour, to expect immortality in company with Emerson and Plato, and the rest. These were Amos Bronson Alcott and Henry David Thoreau.
Alcott was the elder, and older even than Emerson. Born in 1799, the son of an every-day Connecticut farmer, he began life as a peddler, in which character he sometimes strayed a good way southward. A thoroughly honest man of unusually active mind, his chief emotional trait appears to have been a self-esteem which he never found reason to abate. In the midst of peddling, then, he felt himself divinely commissioned to reform mankind.
He soon decided that his reform ought to begin with education. As early as 1823, having succeeded in educating himself in a manner which he found satisfactory, he opened a school at his native town, Wolcott, Connecticut. Five years later he removed to Boston, where he announced that if people would send him their children, he would educate them as children had never been educated before.
At that time, in 1828, the spirit of reform was so fresh in the air of New England as to affect many heads which ought to have been too strong for just that intoxication. Among Mr. Alcott's pupils at different times were children and grandchildren of eminently conservative Bostonians. Dissatisfied with the mechanical lifelessness of the regular schools, they eagerly accepted Mr. Alcott's novel theories. His method of teaching, as reported by himself in a volume or two of conversations with his pupils, appears to have been Socratic. In the midst of his disciples, Mr. Alcott posed as a purified and beautified Greek philosopher, whose interlocutors were Boston children, ranging between the ages of three and ten. He would ask them questions about the soul and the eternities, and occasionally about matters of scientific and other fact. He would try to set their infant minds constructively working; and incidentally he would always be on the watch for any accents of perfected praise which might by chance issue from the mouths of these Yankee babes and sucklings. Apart from abstract wisdom, indeed, and its incidental humour, the most obvious trait which distinguishes Mr. Alcott from Plato's Socrates was his honest disposition to learn, if so might be,