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RALPH WALDO EMERSON.
RALPH WALDO EMERSON's first appearance in literature was made in a letter wherein his father notes, with a somewhat injured surprise, the fact that his three-year-old son “does not read very well yet,” and urges the mother not to neglect the education of the little delinquent. Through his boyhood we catch glimpses of him, now "speaking pieces," mounted on a sugar-barrel in the village grocery; now toiling with the pen and with many laborious contortions of the tongue to acquire a fair and well-rounded handwriting; now driving his mother's cow to pasture down the slope of Beacon Hill; now working with his brothers to aid in the care of the house, dignifying the operation of scouring knives by composing mock-heroic rhymes,
“Melodious knife, and thou, harmonious sand,
Touched by the poet scourer's rugged hand."
Those were the days of scanty means for the brave little household, the widowed mother and her five boys. There is a story that the aspiring poet and one of his brothers took turns in wearing the overcoat that was their joint possession, and that they read Greek in so cold a room that ever afterwards they associated Plato with the smell of woolen wraps.
One of the strongest influences brought to bear upon
the lives of these growing boys was that of their father's sister, "proud, pious, eccentric, exacting, inspiring Aunt Mary Moody Emerson.” Full of whims and oddities she certainly was. To test a young girl's moral courage, she once invited her to carry a broomstick across Boston Common. For many years she slept in a bed made like a coffin. She prepared herself a shroud, and as if in thrifty fear that she would outlive its usefulness, she wore it as a dress. She loved her nephews so intensely that she was almost fierce with them in her anxiety lest they should develop some trait that was inconsistent with perfection. She was especially troubled at any manifestation of humor,-"folly,” she called it,- and I have fancied that sometimes in Emerson's writings his natural humor is kept under too rigid control by an unconscious deference to the mentor of his boyhood. She was a widely read woman, a keen reasoner, a brilliant thinker, and a clear-sighted critic,- a stimulus and inspiration to them all. “Be generous and great,” —
Always do what you are afraid to do,” — these are some of the mottoes that she impressed upon Emerson and his brothers. It is her own “Lift your aims” that comes out in his “Hitch your wagon to a star," and it is her “Scorn trifles" that helped to give to his life its calm and tranquil flow.
“They were born to be educated," said this austere and loving aunt, and in all their privations it seems never to have occurred to any member of the little family that the boys should not go to college. So to college they went, partly paying their way with prizes and scholarships and
work that came to hand. After graduating, Emerson assisted his older brother in teaching. No one seems to have remarked any incongruity in these two young men of eighteen and twenty opening a
"finishing school” for young ladies. Emerson came to his youth slowly, and perhaps he was younger at fifty than he was at eighteen. At any rate, if we may trust the memories of his pupils, both the young ladies and their parents were satisfied with the success of the undertaking. After the school-keeping, followed the study of theology, six years of the ministry, and then came the time in which he was both teacher and minister, but to a larger audience, the listeners in his lecture-room and the readers of his published writings.
A quiet, peaceful home he found in Concord, Massachusetts; and there he thought and wrote and welcomed his friends. He claimed no exemption from the duties of the villager. He went to town-meeting like any one of the "plain people.” He served on the school committee with a never failing enthusiasm for good reading and declamation. After his conscientious visits, he would repeat to his family, with the utmost simplicity, how much he had learned from one school and another. In his description of the man of "royal blood," he unconsciously pictures himself in his unfailing kindness to every one that needed a friend. Rich and poor, learned and unlearned, sorrowed alike at his death — mansions and cottages were draped with black. Never, save when a man is greatly beloved, do the houses of the poor show signs of mourning.
Emerson's place in the development of the literature of his country is not a question for these few pages. He was a poet, even according to his own high definition of the poet as the interpreter of the thought of God expressed in nature. He never lost the simple love of the child for the rose growing under his window, but he felt also a reverence for its sacredness as a message from God that man should live in the present, neither grieving over the past, nor peering too eagerly into the future. A few months before his death,