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Introductory i


Early days 3

Takes charge of an Unitarian Church in Boston (1829) . 4

Resigns the charge in 1832 5

Goes to Europe (1833) 6

Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Carlyle 7

Settles in Concord (1834) 7

Description of Concord by Clough 7

Death of his first wife 8

Income .8

Hawthorne 10

Thoreau 10

Views on Solitude 11

Effect of his address in the Divinity School of Harvard (1838) 1 2

Contributes to the Dio/ (1840) 13

First series of his Essays published in 1841 .... 14

Second series three years later 14

Second visit to England (1847), and delivers lectures on

" Representative Men," collected and published in 1850 14

Poems first collected in 1847 ; final version made in 1876 . 14
Essays and Lectures published in i860, under general title of

The Conduct of Life 14


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And the Civil War 15

General retrospect of his life 16

Died April 27, 1882 16


Style of his writings 17

Manner as a lecturer 17

Dr. Holmes 17

His use of words 18

Sincerity 19

And Landor 19

J. R. Lowell 19

Description of his library 20

A word or two about his verses 21


Hawthorne 24

And Carlyle 24

The Friends of Universal Progress in 1840 • >5

Bossuet 26

Remarks on New England 26

One of the few moral reformers 28

Essays on '^ Domestic Life/' on *' Behaviour/' and on

"Manners" 30

Compared to Franklin and Chesterfield 30

Is for faith before works 33

Systematic reasoning and spiritual leadership -35

The Emersonian faith abundantly justified .... 36

Carlyle's letter to (June 4, 1871) 36

One remarkable result of his idealism 39

On Death and Sin 40

Conclusion 43

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Carlyle's influence^ and degree of its durability • • • 45

His literary services 48

No label useful in characterising him 50

The poetic and the scientific temperaments . • 5^

Rousseau and Carlyle 54

The poetic method of handling social questions -5^

Impotent unrest^ and his way of treating it . '5^

Founded on the purest individualism 60

Carlyle's historic position in the European reaction 62

Coleridge 64

Byron 65

Carlyle's victory over Byrom'sm 67

Goethe 68

Carlyle's intensely practical tum^ though veiled ... 69
His identification of material with moral order '71

And acceptance of the doctrine that the end justifies the means 7 a

Two sets of relations still regulated by pathological principle 75

Defect in Carlyle's discussion of them 76

His reticences 77

Equally hostile to metaphysics and to the extreme pretensions

of the physicist 78

Natural Supematuralism^ and the measure of its truth . 79
Two qualities flowing from his peculiar fatalism : —

(i) Contempt for excess of moral nicety . .82

(2) Defect of sympathy with masses of men • • • 85

Perils in his constant sense of the nothingness of life 87

Hero-worship, and its inadequateness 88

Theories of the dissolution of the old European order 91

Carlyle's view of the French Revolution • • • • 93

Of the Reformation and Protestantism 94

Inability to understand the political point of view 97

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Bjrron's influence in Europe 99

In England 100

Criticism not concerned with Byron's private life . • 103

Function of synthetic criticism 104

Byron has the political quality of Milton and Shakespeare 106

Contrasted with Shelley in this respect 107

Peculiarity of the revolutionary view of nature .111

Revolutionary sentimentalism 112

And revolutionary commonplace in Bjrron . .114

Byron's reasonableness 115

Size and difficulties of his subject 115

His mastery of it 116

The reflection of Danton in Byron 120

The reactionary influence upon him 122

Origin of his apparent cynicism 123

His want of positive knowledge 124

Aesthetic and emotional relations to intellectual positivity 125

Significance of his dramatic predilections .128

His idea of nature less hurtful in art than in politics 129

Its influence upon his views of duty and domestic sentiment . 130
His public career better than one side of his creed 132

Absence of true subjective melancholy from his nature . '133

His ethical poverty 136

O>nclusion 136


Changes and famous names of his lifetime * '39

Early years 141

Visits France, 1 791-1792 142

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nePrel^ule 14^

Its treatment of the French Revolution .... 144

Dorothy Wordsworth 14S

Coleridge 145

I^rica/^Bo^^^df published in 1798 14^

In Germany with Coleridge 146

Settles in the vale of Grssmere 146

Marries Mary Hutchinson in 1803 148

Famous friends and visitors 148

Their descriptions of the poet 149

Tours abroad between 1820 and 1837 15a

Inspiration from public affiurs 153

Work in classic forms^ and translations 155

Public appreciation slow to come 156

Pbet Laureate^ 1843 '5^

Influence over great modem minds 156

His historic position • • . 157

His conception of the poet's mission 159

Contrasted with Byron 160

His position among sovereign poets 161

Obvious defects in his work 162

The real elements of his greatness 165

Faithful to Nature in detail^ but optimistic in generalisation . 168
Conchnion • • • •170


The Life of Macaulay 171

Blacaulay's vast popularity 172

He and Mill, the two masters of the modem journalist . •173

His marked quality 175

Set his stamp on style 177

His genius for narration 178

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His copiousness of illustration . . .180

Macaulay's is the style of literary knowledge .181

His use of generous commonplace 182

Perfect accord with his audience 185

Dislike of analysis 186

Not meditative 187

Macaulay's is the prose of spoken deliyerance .188

Character of his geniality 191

Metallic hardness and brightness 192

Compared with Carlyle 193

Harsh modulations and shallow cadences •194

Compared with Burke 195

Or with Southey 196

Faults of intellectual conscience .198

Vulgarity of thought 199

Conclusion 200


On literary biography 203

As a mere letter-writer will not rank among the Cunous

masters 205

F. W. H. Myers's Essay 208

Letter to Mr. Harrison 214

Hebrew her feiyourite study 218

Limitless persistency in application . .218

Romola 219

R. W. MtLckaj's Progress of the IfUeUed 224

The period of her productions^ 1856-1876 .... 227

Browning 228

An aesthetic not a doctrinal teacher 229

Disliked vehemence 231

Conclusion 232

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His influence 235

Industry and spirit his best credentials 237

Youth 238

Went as a freshman to Oriel in 1832 240

Affected by a profound weakness of will and character . 240

The motto of his life — '^ Quicquid hie operis fiat poenitet " 242

Newman 245

Goldwin Smith 258

Life of MiUoH 264

Contributes five biographies to the new edition of the

Encyclopaedia Briianmca 265

Delivers a lecture on Books and Critics^ 1877 266
In 187 1 and 1872 published editions of the Essmf on Man and

the Satires and Eputles of Pope 266


Introductory. 269

Early days 270

literaiy ordeal 273

Success of the Tales on Political Economy . • ^73
Her feelings not literary^ but truly social •274

London Society (1832) 275

Character of her judgments on Men 278

The Whigs 278

Carlyle's influence 280

Interest in American slavery 282

Her first novel 283

Her new religious opinions 285

Eastern travels 286

Retirement to the Lakes 288

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Her maimer of life 289

Translation of Comte 290

Her right estimate of literary work . .291

Her Biographic Skeiches 293

Characteristics 293


The poet's choice of a theme 295

The range and vividness of his characters .... 297

What makes a master and a masterpiece of poetry 298

Some defects of the work 298

Its noble passages 299

The miity of impression the complete work conveys . 300

Arbitrary criticism and authentic poetic beauty . 300

The didactic in art and the essentially moral. . . 30a

Browning's appeal to judgment rather than to sensibility . 304

The poem a parable of Truth's struggle to prevail . . 306

The richness of its thought 310

The lack of epic grandeur in its plot and personages • 310

The large humanity which compensates for this . 312


Editorial qualities^ responsibilities, and trials • 313

Brougham and the Edmburgk Review 315

His view of his own capabilities 319

Anonymity and the system of signature •320

Cockbum's panegyric on Jeffrey 320

The anonymous system dependent on a quality now rare —

unity of conviction among contributors .... 322

Signature and the winning of distinction .... 324

Sgnature unexpectedly encouraged honesty in controversy . 326

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Carlyle as a contributor 327

Jeffrey's early opimons on writers afterwards Ciunoas . 329

Sir James Stephen on Mill's Logic 330

His consideration for the editor 331

Broogham on Macaulay's dive 332

G>ckbiim and Jeffrey on Macaulay 333

Sedgwick on VesHges of Creation 333


Characteristics 335

Bom at Manchester in 1809 337

Matthew Henry 338

Goes to the Edinburgh University in the winter of 1826-182 7 340

Sir William Hamilton 340

Mother died^ 1828 34a

The Apprentice House 342

De Tocqueville 345

Goes abroad 345

Skeichei tn Greece and Twrkey 347

Starts in business on his own account at Bury, 1833 . 348

Marries the daughter of Dr. Henry in 1835 • • • • 349

Moves to the Lakes 349

Sir George Comewall Lewis 354

Offered a place on the Board of Customs, 1856 . 354

Marries again in 1874 the daughter of Mr. James Wilson . 355

Death of his brother-in-law, Walter Bagehot (1877) . 356

Died November 1881 356

Emgmat of Life, 1875 35^

Condusiim 361

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A GREAT interpreter of life ought not himself to
need interpretation, least of all can he need it for
contemporaries. When time has wrought changes
of fashion, mental and social, the critic serves a
useful turn in giving to a poet or a teacher his true
place, and in recovering ideas and points of view
that are worth preserving. Interpretation of this
kind Emerson cannot require. I£is books are no
palimpsest, *'the prophet's holograph, defiled,
erasea, and covered by a monk's.'' What he has
written is fresh, legible, and in full conformity with
the manners and the (Uction of the day, and those
who are unable to understand him without gloss and
comment are in fact not prepared to imderstand
what it is that the original has to say. Scarcely any
literature is so entirely unprofitable as the so-called
criticism that overlays a pithy text with a windy
sermon. For our time at least Emerson may best
be left to be his own expositor.

Nor is Emerson in the case of those whom the
world has failed to recognise, and whom therefore
it is the business of the critic to make known and to
define. It is too soon to say in what particular
niche among the teachers of the race posterity will
place him ; enough that in our own generation he
has already been accepted as one of the wise masters,
who, being called to high thinking for generous ends,
did not fall below his vocation, but, steadfastly pur-
suing the pure search for truth, without propoimd-
ing a system or founding a school or cumbering

» 1884.

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himself overmuch about applications, lived the
life of the spirit, and breathed into other men a
strong desire after the risht governance of the soul.
All this is generally reslised and understood, and
men may now be left to find their way to the Emer-
sonian doctrine without the critic's prompting.
Though it is only the other day that Emerson
walked the earth and was alive and among us, he
is already one of the privileged few whom the reader
approaches in the mood of settled respect, and whose
names have surroimded themselves with an atmo-
sphere of religion.

It is not p^urticularly profitable, again, to seek for
Emerson one of the labels out of the philosophic
handbooks. Was he the prince of Transcendental-
ists, or the prince of IdeaUsts ? Are we to look for
the sources of his thought in Kant or Jacobi, in
Fichte or Schelling ? How does he stand towards
Parmenides and 2^no, the Egotheism of the Sufis,
or the position of the Megareans ? Shall we put
him on the shelf with the Stoics or the Mystics, with
Quietist, Pantheist, Determinist ? If life were long,
it might be worth while to trace Emerson's afi&nities
with the philosophic schools ; to collect and infer
his answers to the everlasting problems of psycho-
logy and metaphysics ; to extract a set of coher-
ent and reasoned opinions about knowledge and
faculty, experience and consciousness, truth and
necessity, the absolute and the relative. But such
inquiries would only take us the farther away from
the essence and vitaUty of Emerson's mind and
teaching. In philosophy proper Emerson made no
contribution of his own, but accepted, apparently
without much examination of the other side, from
Coleridge after iCant, the intuitive, a priori and
realist theory respecting the sources of human
knowledge, and the objects within the cognisance
of the human faculties. This was his starting-
point, and within its own sphere of thought he

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cannot be said to have carried it any further. What
he did was to light up these doctrines with the rays
of ethical and poetic imagination. As it has been
justly put, though Emersonian transcendentalism is
usually spoken of as a philosophy, it is more justly
regarded as a gospel.^ But before dwelling more on
this, let us look into the record of his life, of which
we may say in all truth that no purer, simpler, and
more harmonious story can be foimd in the annals
of far-shining men.


Ralph Waldo Emerson was bom at Boston, May
25, 1808. He was of an ancient and honourable
Elnghsh stock, who had transplanted themselves, on
one side from Cheshire and Bedfordshire, and on
the other from Durham and York, a himdred and
seventy years before. For seven or eight genera-
tions in a direct and unbroken line his forefathers
had been preachers and divines, not without emin-
ence in the Puritan tradition of New England. His
second name came into the family with Rebecca
Waldo, with whom at the end of the seventeenth
century one Edward Emerson had intermarried,
and whose family had fled from the Waldensian
valleys and that slaughter of the saints which
Milton called on Heaven to avenge. Every tribu-
tary, then, that made Emerson what he was, flowed
not only from Protestantism, but from " the Pro-
testantism of the Protestant religion.** When we
are told that Puritanism inexorably locked up the
intelligence of its votaries in a dark and straitened
chamber, it is worthy to be remembered that the
genial, open, lucid, and most comprehensive mind of
Emerson was the ripened product of a genealogical
tree that at every stage of its growth had been
vivified by Puritan sap.

1 Frothiii^iam*8 Tranaeendentalism in New England: a History—^
judicioiis, acute, and highly interesting piece of critidsm.

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Not many years after his birth, Emerson's
mother was left a widow with narrow means, and
he underwent the wholesome training of frugality
in youth. When the time came, he was sent to
Harvard. When Clough visited America a genera-
tion later, the collegiate training does not appear to
have struck him very favourably. ** They learn
French and history and German, and a great many
more things than in England, but only imperfectly."
This was said from the standard of Rugby and
Balliol, and the method that Clough calls imperfect
had merits of its own. The pupil lost much in a
curriculum that had a certam rawness about it,
compared with the traditional culture that was at
that moment (1820) just beginning to acquire a
fresh hold within the old grey quadrangles of
Oxford. On the other hand, the training at Har-
YBxd struck fewer of those superfluous roots in the
mind, which are only planted that they may be
presently cast out again with infinite distraction and

When his schooling was over, Emerson began to
prepare himself for the ministrations of the pulpit,
and in 1826 and 1827 he preached in divers places.
Two years later he was ordained, and imdertook the
chargeof an important Unitarian Chiu*ch in Boston.
It was not very long before the strain of forms,
comparatively moderate as it was in the Unitarian
body, became too heavy to be borne. Emerson
foimd that he could no longer accept the usual view
of the Conmnmion Service, even in its least sacra-
mental interpretation. To him the rite was purely
spiritual in origin and intent, and at the best only
to be retained as a coixunemoration. The whole
world, he said, had been full of idols and ordinances
and forms, when " the Almighty God was pleased
to qualify and send forth a man to teach men that
they must serve him with the heart ; that only that
life was religious which was thoroughly good ; that

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sacrifice was smoke and forms were shadows. This
man lived and died true to that purpose ; and now
with his blessed word and life before us, Christians
must contend that it is a matter of vital importance,
reaUy a duty, to commemorate him by a certain
form, whether that form be agreeable to their
imderstandings or not. Is not this to make vain
the gift of God ? Is not this to make men forget
that not forms but duties — ^not names but righteous-
ness and love — are enjoined ? *'

He was willing to continue the service with that
explanation, and on condition that he should not
himself partake of the bread and wine. The con-
gregation would fain have kept one whose trans-
parent purity of soul had attached more than his
heresy had alienated. But the innovation was too
great, and Emerson resigned his charge (1882). For
some five or six years longer he continued occasion-
ally to preach, and more than one congregation
would have accepted him. But doubts on the
subject of public prayer began to weigh upon his
mind. He suspected the practice by which one man
offered up prayer vicanously ana collectively for
the assembled congregation. Was not that too, like
the Commimion Service, a form that tended to
deaden the spirit ? Under the influence of this and
other scruples he finally ceased to preach (1838), and
told his mends that henceforth he must find his
pulpit in the platform of the lecturer. " I see not,"
he said, " why this is not the most flexible of all
organs of opinion, from its popularity and from its
newness, permitting you to say what you think,
without any shackles of proscnption. The pulpit
in oiu- age certainly gives forth an obstructed and
uncertain sound ; and the faith of those in it, if
men of genius, may differ so much from that of
those under it as to embarrass the conscience of the
speaker, because so much is attributed to him from
tne fact of standing there." The lecture was an

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important discovery, and it has had many conse-
quences in American culture. Among the more
imdesirable of them has been (certainly not in
Emerson's own case) the importation of the pulpit
accent into subjects where one would be happier
without it.

Earlier in the same year in which he retired from
his church at Boston, Emerson had lost his young
wife. Though we may well believe that he bore
these agitations with self-control, his health suffered,
and in the spring of 1888 he started for Europe. He
came to be accused of saying captious things about
travelling. There are three wants, he said, that can
never be satisfied : that of the rich who want some-
thing more ; that of the sick who want something
different ; and that of the traveller who says. Any-
where but here. Their restlessness, he told ms
countrymen, argued want of character. They were
infatuated with *' the rococo toy of Italy." As if
what was true anywhere were not true everywhere ;
and as if a man, go where he will, can find more
beauty or worth than he carries. All this was said,
as we shall see that much else was said by Emerson,
by way of reaction and protest against instability of
soul in the people aroimd him. " Here or nowhere,"
said Goethe inversely to unstable Europeans yearn-
ing vaguely westwards, ** here or nowhere is thine
America." To the use of travel for its own ends,
Emerson was of course as much alive as other people.
" There is in every constitution a certain solstice
when the stars stand still in our inward firmament,
and when there is required some foreign force, some
diversion or alteration, to prevent stagnation. And

Online LibraryJohn MorleyThe works of Lord Morley → online text (page 1 of 29)