Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson online

. (page 13 of 31)
Online LibraryRalph Waldo EmersonJournals of Ralph Waldo Emerson → online text (page 13 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the audience heartily enjoys, and tamer speak-
ers learn a good lesson. He at least vindicates
himself as a man, and one of great and subtile
resources.

How important an educator has Scott been !

In the Board of Overseers of the College, the
committee on honorary degrees reported unfa-
vourably on all but the commanding names,
and instantly the President and an ex-President
pressed the action of the Corporation, acknow-
ledging that these men proposed for honours
were not very able or distinguished persons, but
it was the custom to give these degrees without
insisting on eminent merit. I remember that
Dr. Follen, in his disgust at the Reverend and
Honourable Doctors he saw in America, wished
to drop the title and be called Mister.



246 JOURNAL [Age 6s

Who listens to eloquence makes discoveries.
A man who thought he was in earnest hears,
and finds oiit that he was not. How we then
feel that we could wash the feet of the speaker
for the right.

C. J. Fox said, if he had a boy, he would
make him write verses, the only way of know-
ing the meaning of words. — Recollections y of
Samuel Rogers.

What Landor said of Canning is truer of
Disraeli, that "he is an understrapper made an
overstrapper."

June I 6.

In reading these fine poems of Morris, I see
but one defect, but that is fatal, namely, that
the credence of the reader no longer exists. I
wrote thus last night, after reading " King Ac-
risius," but this evening I have read "The
Proud King," wherein the fable is excellent, and
the story fits this and all times.

Beauty is in great part a moral effect. It
comes to serenity, to cheerfulness, to benignity,
to innocence, to settled noble purpose. It flees
from the perplexed, the self-seeking, the cow-



1868] A DAUGHTER. A FRIEND 247

ardly, the mean, the despairing, the frivolous,
and the stupid. Self-respect, how indispensable
to it! A free and contented air.

The roots of to-day are in yesterday and the
days and days before. Why is this girl always
unaccountably cheerful ? Only because the due
letter was written and posted yesterday, the
valise of her brother's clothes went by the ex-
press, and he must have received them hours
ago, and there is time this forenoon for all that
is to be done. So with the weeks and the
months. 'T is her habit, and every day brings
the gay acknowledgment of these petty fidelities,
by letter or by the faces of all whom she meets.'

The Youth gets on obscurely well enough
from day to day, but once he chances to meet a
young man who tells him something. He rolls
it over in his mind for a day or two and must
go back to him. The friend has told him his
fortune ; he has given him his character ; he
now sees somewhat he never saw, though the
same things were close beside him. Every talk
with that youth interests him, and all his life
has a new look, whilst with him. He does not
I A tribute to his daughter Ellen.



248 JOURNAL [Age 65

care longer for the old companions; they are
tame and superficial ; he wants a witch, he wants
an interpreter, a poet, a sympathizer ; he has
heard of books, and finds one at last that re-
minds him of his friend. This also is a dear
companion.

Dreary are the names and numbers of vol-
umes of Hegel and the Hegelians,- — to me,
who only want to know at the shortest the few
steps, the two steps, or the one taken. I know
what step Berkeley took, and recognize the
same in the Hindoo books. Hegel took a
second, and said, that there are two elements,
something and nothing, and that the two are in-
dispensable at every subsequent step, as well
as at the first. Well, we have familiarized that
dogma, and at least found a kind of necessity
in it, even if poor human nature still feels the
paradox. Now is there any third step which
Germany has made of like importance and re-
nown ? It needs no encyclopaedia of volumes to
tell. I want not the metaphysics, but only the
literature of them." . . .

Enchantments. There are inner chambers of

I See for the substance of what follows Natural History
of Intellect (p. 13).



1868] ENCHANTMENTS. AGRA 249

poetry, which only poets enter. Thus loosely
we might say, Shakspeare's Sonnets are read-
able only by poets, and it is a test of poetic ap-
prehension, the value which a reader attaches to
them. But also the poem, —

" Let the bird of loudest lay
On the sole Arabian tree," etc., etc., —

and the " Threnos " that follows it, if published
for the first time to-day anonymously, would be
hooted in all journals ; and yet such a poem
comes but once in a century, and only from a
genius. I prize Beaumont and Fletcher's song,
" Fountain heads and pathless groves," etc., in
the same way.' . . .

We think we have a key to the affair if we
can find that Italian artists were at Agra four
centuries ago, and so the Taj is accounted for.
Or, if Greeks were in Egypt earlier than we had
found, and ties of one race can be detected, the
architectural race that built in both lands. But
the wonder is the one man that built one
temple ; and after that, the creation of two
temples, or two styles, or twenty, is easy to ac-
cept.

I What follows is printed in " Poetry and Imagination "
(^Letters and Social Aims, pp. 55, 56).



250 JOURNAL [Age 65

Yea and Nay. We go to the artist's studio, and
see his plans. They do not satisfy this exigeant
eye, which yet knows not what it wants, only
knows that these drawings do not content it.
But any number of Nays does not help us in the
smallest degree. Nothing will but the blessed
appearance from any quarter of a plan of genius
that meets all the conditions, and delights us,
and we all siy, 'That is it. The Cabots built the
Athenaeum ; ' Billings went into it and said, this
hall and staircase want greatness, and drew his
plans. The Committee and the Cabots assented
at once, and Billings was added to the Cabots as
one of the architects.

Newport, July.
Seashore
Here chimes no clock, no pedant calendar,
My waves abolish time, dwarf days to hours,
And give my guest eternal afternoon.

July 13.

I have seen Sarah Clarke and her friends at

Newport, with great pleasure and content, — at

least with as much as so bad a traveller and

visitor as I can find.^ The land and water have

1 The Athenaeum Library in Boston on Beacon Street.

2 Mr. and Mrs. Emerson had a happy week or more with
their friend. Miss Clarke (his pupil in the Boston school for



1868] THE REAL OCEAN 251

the unfailing charm of the sea, which abolishes
time, makes it all " afternoon," or vacation, and
always tells us how far we are from Nature, and
that the first poetry is not yet written.

As I was told in Venice that there were plenty
of people who never stirred out of it to the main
land, and, as my Mrs. Holbrook, with whom
I went from Boston to Malta, never went on
deck or saw the sea; so it is in seaports; the
wharves are practically as far from the ocean as
are the mountains. A boy born in Boston may
often wander with boys down to the wharves,
see the ships, boats, and sailors, but his atten-
tion is occupied by the rough men and boys,
very likely by the fruit ships and their cargoes,
specially the molasses casks. His eye may never
get beyond the islands and the lighthouse to
the sea. He remains a cockney, and, years later,
chances to visit far from his town the shore
where the ocean is not hidden by ships and the
wharf population, but fills the horizon. Its chill
breath comes to him a snuff of defiance, he

young ladies, where he assisted and succeeded his brother Wil-
liam) . She was an artist, sister of Rev. James Freeman Clarke.
The presence of Mrs. Helen Hunt, some of whose poems
Mr. Emerson valued, added much pleasure to their stay.



252 JOURNAL [Age 65

realizes its wonder for the first time, and now
first beholds the maker of cities and of civiliza-
tion and may come to understand how Greece
came to exist, and Tyre, and England.

Newport. The admirable sites for building
and the combination of so many advantages
point plainly to its future as the attractive water-
side in the country. My chief acquisition was
the acquaintance of Mrs. Helen Hunt, Sarah
Clarke's friend, and her poetry I could heartily
praise. The sonnet" Thought " and " Ariadne's
Farewell " were the best, but all had the merit
of originality, elegance, and compression.

Mrs. Hunt wished me to admire George
Eliot's " Spanish Gypsy," but on superficial
trial by hearing passages, I refused. It was
manufactured, not natural, poetry. Any elegant
and cultivated mind can write as well, but she
has not insight into Nature, nor a poetic ear.
Such poetry satisfies readers, and scholars, too,
at first sight, — does not oflFend, — conciliates
respect, and it is not easy to show the fault.
But let it lie awhile, and nobody will return to
it. Indeed, time, as I so often feel, is an indis-
pensable element of criticism. You cannot judge
of Nahant, or Newport, or of a gallery, or a



1868] WORDSWORTH. VERMONT 253

poem, until you have outlived the dismay or
overpowering of a new impression.

I took a volume of Wordsworth in my valise,
and read for the first time, I believe, carefully
"The White Doe of Rylstone," a poem in a
singularly simple and temperate key, without
ornament or sparkle, but tender, wise, and re-
ligious, such as only a true poet could write,
honouring the poet and the reader.

August 16.
Came home last night from Vermont with
Ellen. Stopped at Middlebury on the nth,
Tuesday, and read my discourse on Greatness,
and the good work and influence of heroic scholars.^
On Wednesday spent the day at Essex Junction,
and traversed the banks and much of the bed
of the Winooski River, much admiring the falls,
and the noble mountain peaks of Mansfield and
Camel's Hump (which there appears to be the
highest), and the view of the Adirondacs across

I This address, of the same title as the last lecture of the
course which Mr. Emerson gave in the autumn in Boston,
was probably not quite identical with the essay '« Greatness"
in Letters and Social Aims, and very probably contained
matter which now appears in "The Scholar" and the
"Man of Letters" in Lectures and Biographical Sketches.



254 JOURNAL [Age 6s

the Lake. In the evening, took the stage to
Underhill Centre, and, the next morning, in un-
promising weather, strolled away with Ellen to-
wards the Mansfield Mountain, four miles off;
and, the clouds gradually rising and passing from
the summit, we decided to proceed towards the
top, which we reached (with many rests at the
Half- Way House and at broad stones on the
path) a little before i o'clock, and found George
Bradford ' at the Mountain House. We were
cold and a little wet, but found the house warm
with stoves.

After dinner, Ellen was thoroughly warmed
and recruited lying on a settee by the stove,
and meanwhile I went up with Mr. Bradford
and a party to the top of "the Chin," which
is the highest land in the State, — 4400 feet.
I have later heard it stated 4389 feet. Lake
Champlain lay below us, but was a perpetual
illusion, as it would appear a piece of yellow
sky, until careful examination of the islands in it
and the Adirondac summits beyond brought it
to the earth for a moment ; but, if we looked
away an instant, and then returned, it was in

I George Partridge Bradford, Mr. Emerson's valued friend,
refined, sensitive, and affectionate, a scholar and teacher, Mrs.
Ripley's brother.




GEORGE PARTRIDGE BRADFORD



1868] MOUNT MANSFIELD 255

the sky again. When we reached the summit, we
looked down upon the " Lake of the Clouds,"
and the party which reached the height a
few minutes before us had a tame cloud which
floated by a little below them.

This summer, bears and a panther have been
seen on the mountain, and we peeped into
some rocky caves which might house them.
We came, on the way, to the edge of a crag,
which we approached carefully, and lying on
our bellies; and it was easy to see how danger-
ous a walk this might be at night, or in a snow-
storm. The White Mountains, it was too misty
to see; but "Owl's Head," near Lake Mem-
phremagog, was pointed out. Perhaps it was a
half-mile only from the House to the top of
"the Chin," but it was a rough and grand walk.
On such occasions, I always return to my fancy
that the best use of wealth would be to carry a
good professor of geology, and another of bot-
any, with you. In the House were perhaps
twenty visitors besides ourselves. A Mr. Taylor,
of Cincinnati, — a very intelligent gentleman,
— with excellent political views. Republican
and free-trader ; George Bartlett was there with
a gay company of his friends, who had come
up from Stowe, where he had given a theatrical



256 JOURNAL [Age 65

entertainment of amateurs, the night before.'
In the evening, they amused us mightily with
charades of violent fun.

The next morning a man went through the
house ringing a large bell, and shouting " Sun-
rise," and everybody dressed in haste, and
went down to the piazza. Mount Washington
and the Franconia Mountains were clearly visible,
and Ellen and I climbed now the Nose, to which
the ascent is made easy by means of a stout rope
firmly attached near the top, and reaching down
to the bottom of the hill, near the House.
Twenty people are using it at once at different
heights. After many sharp looks at the heavens
and the earth, we descended to breakfast. I found
in this company . . . [many] agreeable people.

At 9.30 A. M. Ellen and I, accompanied for
some distance by George Bradford, set forth on
our descent, in the loveliest of mornings, and,
parting from him at one of the galleries, ar-

I George Bradford Bartlett, of Concord, son of the admir-
able village doctor Josiah Bartlett, and nephew of Mr. Bradford.
When failing eyesight obliged him to leave business he used
his gift as an actor and manager of private theatricals often
for charitable purposes (as for the Sanitary Commission dur-
ing the War). His fame spread widely, and summer hotels
welcomed him, for his wit, his picnics, games and charades
greatly helped their seasons.



1868] CHINESE EMBASSY 257

rived safely at the Half- Way House, — there
to find a troop of our fellow - boarders of the
" Underhill House " just mounting their horses
to climb the mountain. They advised us to
take a little forest path to the " Mossy Glen,"
before we continued our journey from this
point, which we did, and found a pretty fall.
Returning to the Half- Way House, which is
empty, and only affords at this time a resting-
place for travellers and a barn for horses, we
resumed our walk, and arrived (without other
event than a little delay among the raspberries)
at Mr. Prouty's Hotel at Underhill, say at 1.30 ;
dined, re-packed our trunk, and took a wagon
to Stowe, thence the stage-coach to Essex
Junction, and thence the train, which brought
us to Burlington, where we spent the night; and,
the next morning, the Rutland and Burlington
train, which brought us safely to Westminster,
Massachusetts, where Ellen took a wagon for
Princeton, and I continued my railroad ride to
Concord, arriving at 6.30 in the evening.

[On August 21, the City of Boston gave a
banquet in honor of the Chinese Embassy and
the recently ratified treaty with China, negoti-
ated by our minister to that country, also its



258 JOURNAL [Age 6s

ambassador to ours, Mr. Burlingame. Mr.
Emerson made a short address on the occasion
which is printed in the Miscellanies, "]

University. The University question divides
people with some rancour, which blinds the
eyes, and I hope will be avoided, in considera-
tion of the gravity of the subject. We might
as well come to it after a late dinner in the
strength of wine, as to hope to treat it wisely
on the strength of party and passion.

The general uneasiness and movement in the
public in regard to education shows a certain
cleavage.

Evils of the College —

It does not justify itself to the pupil.

It does not open its doors to him.

Balks him with petty delays and refusals.

The instructors are in false relations to the
student.

Instead of an avenue, it is a barrier.

Let him find good advice, but of a wise man,
sympathetic, a patron of the youth on entering
the gate.

It gives degrees on time, on the number of
dinners eaten ("eat your terms"), not on ex-
amination.



1868] UNIVERSITY CRITICISED 259

It gives foolish diplomas of honour to every
old clergyman, or successful gentleman, who lives
within ten miles.

Ball and boat clubs do not hurt, but help the
morals of the students.

If the college falls behind the culture of the
people, it is instantly ridiculous.

For my report on the Greek Committee I
must not forget to insert my opinion on exam-
inations; — that whenever one is on trial, two
are on trial ; the examiner is instructed whenever
the pupil is examined.

At Monadnoc, the final cause of towns ap-
pears to be to be seen from the mountains.

Nature

Day by day for her darlings to her much she added more ;
In her hundred-gated Thebes every chamber was a

door,
A door to something grander, — loftier walls, and

vaster floor.

J. T. Williams said that he told a friend of
Evarts that he considered Evarts the best can-
didate for the United States Senate from New
York, and should labor for his election. After-
wards he met Evarts, who came up to him and



a6o JOURNAL [Age 65

thanked him for the kind expression he had
used. After Evarts had entered the President's
Cabinet, Williams saw him again and told him
that his new action had lost him the opportunity
forever. He would never be United States Sen-
ator from New York. Evarts said. No, he was
quite mistaken, and that he was now secure of
being the man, whichever party prevailed; for,
said he, unquestionably the Democratic party
will carry the next election in New York.

" Advances
With rapturous lyrical glances,
Singing the song of the Earth,
Singing hymns to the gods."

Is it Goethe's ?

France is a country of method and numerical
order, the palace of arithmetic; everything is
centralized, and, by a necessity of their nature,
the French have introduced the decimal system
of weights and measures, and made it perfect.
They measured the first degree of the merid-
ian, Picard's. They published the first national
dictionary of the language. In the Revolution,
they abolished the chronology of the world,
and began with the year one. " On se contentait
de vivre au jour en jour." — Biographie Ginirale.



1868] JOY IN WOODS AND BOOKS 261

The only place where I feel the joy of emi-
nent domain is in my woodlot. My spirits rise
whenever I enter it. I can spend the entire day
there with hatchet or pruning-shears making
paths, without a remorse of wasting time. I
fancy the birds know me, and even the trees
make little speeches or hint them. Then Allah
does not count the time which the Arab spends
in the chase.

Ah, what a blessing to live in a house which
has on the ground-floor one room or one cabinet
in which a Worcester's Unabridged ; a Liddell
and Scott; an Andrews and Stoddard; Lem-
priere's Classical; a " Gradus Ad Parnassum" \
a Haydn's Dictionary of Dates ; a Biographic
G'enirale; a Spiers' French, and Fliigel's German
Dictionary, even if Grimm is not yet complete,
— where these and their equivalents, if equiv-
alents can be, are always at hand, — and yet I
might add, as I often do, — ah ! happier, if these
or their substitutes have been in that house for
two generations or for three, — for Horace's
metres and Greek literature will not be thor-
oughly domesticated in one life. A house, I
mean, where the seniors, who are at fault about
school questions, can inquire of the juniors with



262 JOURNAL [Age 65

some security of a right answer. This is one
of my dreams for the American house.

[During October and November, Mr. Emer-
son gave a course of six lectures in Boston.
The subjects were : — I, Art ; II, Poetry and
Criticism ; III, Historic Notes of Life and Let-
ters in New England; IV, Leasts and Mosts ;
V, Hospitality, Homes ; VI, Greatness.]

The distinction of the poet is ever this force
of imagination which puts its objects before him
with such deceptive power that he treats them
as real.' . . .

Single speech. " Laodamia " is almost entitled
to that eminence in Wordsworth's literary per-
formance. That and the " Ode on Immortal-
ity " are the best.

'T is really by a sentence or a phrase or two
that many great men are remembered. Zoroas-
ter has three or four, and Marcus Aurelius only
as many.

George Tufts wrote me, —

" Life is a flame whose splendor hides its base."

I The rest of the passage is found in " Poetry and Imag-
ination " (^Letters and Social Aims, p. 44).



1868] BOOKS. LIBRARIES 263

Mediocre books. There are the sound stomachs
and the sick ; the farmer and the butcher min-
ister to the sound, the physician and the con-
fectioner to the sick. The well can look at the
sun, and use all his light and heat; the sick
only what is reflected and shaded. It is the
same in literature. Strong minds ask principles,
direct aper(^us, and original forms. The sick
public want what is secondary, conventional,
and imitations of imitations. There is need
of Shakspeare and Hegel, and also of Martin
Tupper (if that is his name) and McCosh.

In the perplexity in which the literary public
now stands with regard to university education,
whether studies shall be compulsory or elective ;
whether by lectures of professors, or whether
by private tutors ; whether the stress shall be
on Latin and Greek, or on modern sciences, —
the one safe investment which all can agree to
increase is the library. A good book can wait
for a reader hundreds of years. Once lodged in
the library, it is unexpensive and harmless while
it waits. Then it is a good of the most gener-
ous kind, not only serving the undergraduates
of the college, but much more the alumni, and
probably much more still, the scattered com-
munity of scholars.



264 JOURNAL [Age 65

Ours is the zymosis ' of Science. The heavens
open, and the earth, and every element, and dis-
close their secrets. The large utterance of the
gods which in every organism Nature retains,
the great style, the fate or invariable adherence
to its qualities and methods, and the unity of
system which reigns through all the innumer-
able and immense parts, — we are daily learn-
ing ; and what beams of light have shone upon
men now first in this century ! The Genius,
Nature, is ever putting conundrums to us, and
the savants, as in the girls' game of " Twenty
Questions," are every month solving them suc-
cessively by skilful, exhaustive method. This
success makes the student cheerful and confi-
dent, and his new illumination makes it impos-
sible for him to acquiesce in the old barbarous
routine, whether of politics, or religion, or com-
merce, or social arrangements. Nature will not
longer be kinged, or churched, or colleged, or
drawing-roomed as before.

A man never gets acquainted with himself,
but is always a surprise. We get news daily of
the world within, as well as of the world out-
side, and not less of the central than of the sur-
I State of fermentation.



1868] JOHN HUNTER 265

face facts. A new thought is awaiting him every
morning.

I often think how hard it is to say with sweet-
ness your thought, when you know that it
affronts and exasperates your audience. It is
even difficult to write it for such readers with-
out leaving on the line some bitterness. But
the French do this, and the French alone, with
perfect equanimity in their excellent Revue des
Deux Mondes.

John Hunter was so far from resting his mind
in society, that he felt real fatigue in the midst
of company where the conversation n'avait pas
de suite. (BiograpMe GenSrak.)

His museum cost him jQyofioo. The Gov-
ernment bought it for j^i 5,000, after long ne-
gotiation. Pitt said, "'Tis not a time to buy
anatomical pieces, when I want money to buy
powder."

"Don't ask me," he said to his pupils, "what
I thought a year ago on this or that; ask me
what I think to-day." He, Hunter, first used
the expression " arrested development" which
plays so important a part in modern science.



266 JOURNAL [Age 65

November 1 1 .
Yesterday was well occupied in accompanying
William Robert Ware to the church he is build-
ing for the First Church Society, on Berkeley
Street. It has a completeness and uniformity of
strength, richness, and taste, perfect adaptation
to its present purpose, and an antiquity in all its
ornamentation that give delight. It seemed to



Online LibraryRalph Waldo EmersonJournals of Ralph Waldo Emerson → online text (page 13 of 31)