Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson online

. (page 3 of 31)
Online LibraryRalph Waldo EmersonJournals of Ralph Waldo Emerson → online text (page 3 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

11 JOURNAL [Age 6o

Everett, Child, Gray, White, Clarke, Hunt,
Fields, Phillips, Weiss, Hill, Rowse, Conway,
Bigelow, Hillard, Brimmer, Booth.

April 8.

School Committee. Examined Miss E. Skinner,
Miss Laura Button," Miss Tidd, Miss E. Brown,
Miss Abby Brown.

Elected Miss Eliza Hosmer to the Prepara-
tory School; Miss Holden to the Intermediate ;
Miss E. Brown to the North Quarter School,
District No. 7; Miss Skinner to the North
Primary School; Miss Jeannie Farmer, East
Quarter School, District No. 1 ; Miss Mary
Wood, Bateman's Pond School, District No. 6.

My charge is chairman of the High School
and of the East Primary,' and I am to provide
wood for my school, two and one half cords oak,
one half cord pine. Next school committee
meeting is first Saturday of May.

The schools to begin again after the summer
vacation on August i.

Bias. How grateful to discover in man or
woman a new emphasis, which they put on
somewhat, to which you did not know they
I Opposite Mr. Emerson's house.

1864] BIAS. WRITERS 23

attached value; quite out of themselves; and
which they never learned of you or of any other !
How respectable they become !

I wrote to Arnold, and should have said : I
have heard that the engineers in the locomo-
tives grow nervously vigilant with every year
on the road, until the employment is intoler-
able to them ; and, I think, writing is more and
more a terror to old scribes.

Of Wordsworth, Blake writes : " This is all
in the highest degree imaginative, and equal to
any poet, but not superior, I cannot think that
real poets have any competition. None are
greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It is so in

Shakspeare the only modern writer who has
the honor of a Concordance ; the only painter
who flatters Nature. Is pulverized into pro-

All criticism is only a making of rules out of
his beauties.

" Somnambulic security which makes the poet
a poet." — MoMMSEN.

[There are] great arts now, but no equal
poetry celebrates them.

24 JOURNAL [Age 6o

The surprise in his choice of words so de-
lights us : " foreign levy " —

The trick of making verbs of nouns : —

" Skarf up the tender eye of pitiful day."


" He lurched all swords o' the garland."


" Shunless destiny."


" struck
Corioli like a planet."


"Were I crowned the most imperial monarch.
Thereof most worthy ; were I the fairest youth
That ever made eye swerve; had force and know-
More than was ever man's ; I would not prize them
Without her love ; for her employ them all,
Commend them, and condemn them, to her service.
Or to their own perdition."

Winter's Tale, iv, iii.

I find no mention of tobacco in Shakspeare,
— neither pipes nor snuff, — which one would
have said the dates permitted. 'T is a remark-


able case, like Goethe's chronologic relation to
steam locomotives.

April 24.

Yesterday the Saturday Club met to keep the
birthnight of Shakspeare, at the end of the third
century. We met at the Revere House, at 4
o'clock P.M. Members of the Club present were
seventeen : Agassiz, Appleton, Cabot, Dwight,
Emerson, Forbes, Hedge,- Hoar, Holmes, S.
G. Howe, Estes Howe, Longfellow, Lowell,
Norton, Peirce, Whipple, Woodman.

Guests : Governor Andrew, Rev. Dr. Froth-
ingham, R.H.Dana, Jr., Esq., Dr. J. G. Palfrey,
Richard Grant White, Esq., Robert C. Win-
throp, George S. Hillard, George William Curtis,
James Freeman Clarke, Francis J. Child, Dr.
Asa Gray, James T. Fields, John Weiss, Mar-
tin Brimmer, George T. Davis.

We regretted much the absence of Mr. Bry-
ant, and Whittier, Edward Everett, and William
Hunt, who had at first accepted our invitations,
but were prevented at last ; — and of Haw-
thorne, Dana, Sumner, Motley, and Ward, of
the Club, necessarily absent ; also of Charles
Sprague, and Wendell Phillips, and T. W. Par-
sons, and George Ticknor, who had declined
our invitations. William Hunt graced our hall

26 JOURNAL [Age 6o

by sending us his full-length picture of Hamlet,
a noble sketch. It was a quiet and happy even-
ing filled with many good speeches, from Agas-
siz who presided (with Longfellow as Croupier,
but silent). Dr. Frothingham, Winthrop, Pal-
frey, White, Curtis, Hedge, Lowell, Hillard,
Clarke, Governor Andrew, Hoar, Weiss, and a
fine poem by Holmes, read so admirably well
that I could not tell whether in itself it were
one of his best or not. The company broke up
at 11.30.

One of Agassiz's introductory speeches was,
" Many years ago, when I was a young man, I
was introduced to a very estimable lady in Paris,
who in the conversation said to me that she
wondered how a man of sense could spend his
days in dissecting a fish. I replied, 'Madam, if
I could live by- a brook which had plenty of
gudgeons, I should ask nothing better than to
spend all my life there.' But since I have been
in this country, I have become acquainted with
a Club, in which I meet men of various talents;
one man of profound scholarship in the lan-
guages ; one of elegant literature, or a high mys-
tic poet ; or one man of large experience in the
conduct of aflTairs ; one who teaches the blind to
see, and, I confess, that I have enlarged my


views of life ; and I think that besides a brook
full of gudgeons, I should wish to meet once a
month such a society of friends."

And Shakspeare.^ How to say it, I know not,
but I know that the point of praise of Shak-
speare is, the pure poetic power : he is the chosen
closet companion, who can, at any moment, by
incessant surprises, work the miracle of my-
thologising ev^ery fact of the common life ; as
snow, or moonlight, or the level rays of sun-
rise — lend a momentary glory to every pump
and woodpile.

I In the following pagei are many paragraphs on Shak-
speare, showing that Mr. Emerson was expected to speak.
The address, much condensed, is printed in Miscellanies. Of
the celebration Mr. Cabot, who was present, writes in his
Memoir of Emerson (vol. ii, p. z6i) : "1 remember his
getting up, . . . looking about him tranquilly for a minute
or two, and then sitting down ; serene and unabashed, but
unable to say a word [i. e. impromptu^ on a subject so familiar
to his thoughts from his boyhood." Yet on the manuscript of
his address Mr. Emerson noted that it was read at the Club's
celebration on that occasion, and at the Revere House. The
handwriting of this note looks like that when he was much
older, and it may very likely have been written in his later
years; so it is possible that Mr. Cabot was right. Mr. Emer-
son may have chanced to leave his notes at home, and with-
out them would unwillingly have ventured to speak.

28 JOURNAL [Age 6o

When I read Shakspeare, as lately, I think
the criticism and study of him to be in their in-
fancy. The wonder grows of his long obscurity ;
how could you hide the only man that ever
wrote from all men who delight in reading ?
Then, the courage with which, in each play, he
accosts the main issue, the highest problem,
never dodging the difficult or impossible, but
addressing himself instantly to that, — so con-
scious of his secret competence ; and, at once,
like an aeronaut fills his balloon with a whole
atmosphere of hydrogen that will carry him
over Andes, if Andes be in his path.

The conservative sends for the doctor, when
his child falls sick, though yesterday he affirmed,
in the conversation, that the doctors did not
know anything. In to-day's exigency he rein-
forces his faith. So, in politics, he votes new
subsidies to the King, and when the reform agi-
tation rages, he votes larger supplies to the
Government, — going it blind, so boys say.
The Reformer believes that there is no evil
coming from Change which a deeper thought
cannot correct.

We said that ours was the recuperative age ;


Pascal is one of its recoveries ; not only the
Essay on Love, but the pure text of the Pen-

Shakspeare puts us all out. No theory will
account for him. He neglected his works. Per-
chance he did not know their value ? Aye, but
he did ; witness the Sonnets. He went into
company as a listener, hiding himself, 'OS' ^et
vvktI eoiKcus.' Was only remembered by all as
a delightful companion. Alcott thinks " he was
rhetorician, but did not propound new thoughts."
Aye, he was rhetorician, as was never one be-
fore, but also had more thoughts than ever any

Say first, the greatest master of language,
who could say the thing finer, nearer to the
purity of thought itself than any other ; and
with the security of children playing, who talk
without knowing it. (And to this point, what
can Carlyle mean by saying what he does of
Voltaire's superiority to all men in speech ?
Life of Frederic, iv, p. 382.) I admire his wealth.
I watch him, when he begins a play, to see what
simple and directest means he uses; never con-
sulting his ease, never, in the way of common
I He moved like Night.

30 JOURNAL [Age 6o

artists, putting us off with cerftmonies or decla-
mations, but at once addressing himself to the
noblest solution of the problem, having the gods
and the course of human life in view. The won-
der of his obscurity in his lifetime is to be ex-
plained by the egotism of literary men. To me
the obscurity of Alcott is a like wonder.

Shalcspeare should be the study of the Uni-
versity. In Florence, Boccaccio was appointed
to lecture on Dante. But in English Oxford, or
in Harvard College, I have never heard of
a Shalcspeare Professorship. Yet the students
should be educated, not only in the intelligence
of, but in the sympathy with, the thought of
great poets.

The Sonnets intimate the old Aristotelian
Culture, and a poetic Culture that we do not
easily understand whence it came, — smacks of
the Middle Ages and parliaments of love and
poesy (and I should say, that a string of poems
prefixed to Ben Jonson's or Beaumont and
Fletcher's plays, by their friends, are more se-
riously thought than the pieces which would
now in England or America be contributed to
any call of literary friendship). And yet, if
Whittier, Holmes, Lowell, Channing, Thoreau,
Bryant, Sanborn, Wasson, Julia Howe, had


each made their thoughtful contribution, there
might be good reading.

I must say that in reading the plays, I am a
little shy where I begin ; for the interest of the
story is sadly in the way of poetry. It is safer,
therefore, to read the play backwards. To know
the beauty of Shakspeare's level tone, one
should read a few passages of what passes for
good tragedy in other writers, and then try the
opening of Merchant of Venice, Antonio's first

I am inquisitive of all possible knowledge
concerning Shakspeare, and of all opinions. Yet
how few valuable criticisms, how few opinions
I treasure ! How few besides my own ! And
each thoughtful reader, doubtless, has the like

Sainte-Beuve speaks wisely of the morals
of Homer, in Portraits Contemporains, Volume
iii, p. 434.

Physiology of Taste were a good subject for
a lecture.' My epicure should sow marjoram in

I Mr. Emerson had been reading Brillat-Savarin's Phy-
iiologie du Gout.

32 JOURNAL [Age 6o

his beds, if it were only to see with eyes the
buds; and his windows should look into great

My physiology, too, would in every point
put the real against the showy ; as, to live in
the country, and not in town ; to wear shoddy
and old shoes ; to have not a fine horse, but an
old Dobbin with only life enough to drag a
Jersey wagon to Conantum, or Estabrook, and
there stand contented for half a day at a tree,
whilst I forget him in the woods and pastures
(as, in England the point is not to make strong
beer, but beer weak enough to permit a great
deal to be drunk in hot weather ; as Mr. Flower
explained to me at Stratford).

The intellect is alike old in the father and
in the child. We old fellows affect a great deal
of reticence with the young people, but their

wit cannot wait for us. Mrs. G explained

to me that her children (one was fourteen years
old) did not know what beef was — she had
never allowed them to know that sheep and
oxen were killed for our food. But my children
knew that her children knew as much as they.
Plutarch would use great precautions in young
people's reading of the poets ; and Plato also.

1864] CHILDREN'S WITS :i:i

But when young and old see Faust on the stage,
or Midsummer Night's Dream, or read them in
the closet, they come silently to the same con-

No age to intellect.

The cannon will not suffer any other sound
to be heard for miles and for years around it.
Our chronology has lost all old distinctions in
one date, — Before the War, and since.

It is hard to remember in glancing over our
sumptuous library edition and excellent pocket
editions of Chaucer, that for one hundred years
these works existed only in manuscripts, accu-
mulating errors and false readings in every in-
dividual copy of every new transcriber. 'T is
alarming to reckon the risks, and judge of the
damage done.

A journalist in London or in New York ac-
quires a facility and 'elan which throws the slow
elaborators for the Edinburgh and the North
American into the shade. Thus this lively article
" Schopenhauer," in the New York Commercial
Advertiser of May 31, eclipses Hedge's learned
paper in the Examiner. Schopenhauer said of

34 JOURNAL [Age 6o

chaste persons, " they are thorns which produce
roses." He said, " An impersonal God is a word
void of sense, invented by professors of philoso-
phy to satisfy fools and hack-drivers. ... My
great discovery is to show how, at the bottom of
all things, there is only one identical force, always
equal, and ever the same, which slumbers in
plants, awakens in animals, but finds its con-
sciousness only in man — the Will." " That is
(continues the journalist), the world which we
all believe we see is only a phenomenal world ;
above it, but at a tremendous distance, we find
the real world, and this real world is the Will.
Between these two, he places a kind of plastic
mediator, which he calls ideas."

But, it seems, Schopenhauer, in his youth,
learned Sanscrit, and learned his secret of the
Buddhists. "De tribus impostoribus " means
Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.

It is, I own, difficult not to be intemperate in
speaking of Shakspeare ; and most difficult, I
should say, to the best readers. Few, I think
none, arrive at any intelligence of his methods.
His intellect does not emit jets of light at inter-
vals, but is incessant, always equal to the occa-
sion, and addressing with equal readiness a


comic, an ingenious, or a sublime problem. I
find him an exceptional genius. If the world
were on trial, it is the perfect success of this one
man that might justify such expenditure of ge-
ology, chemistry, fauna, and flora, as the world
was. And, I suppose, if Intellect perceives and
converses "in climes beyond the solar road,"
they probably call this planet, not Earth, but

Alcott said, in speaking of children, " I think
a son translates the privacy of the family to the
public ; daughters cannot do it."

Michael Angela's Third Sonnet

The power of a beautiful face lifts me to Heaven,
Since else in earth is none that delights me,
And I mount living among the elect souls, —
A grace which seldom falls to a mortal.

So well with its Maker the work consents,
That I rise to him through divine conceptions.
And here I shape all thoughts and words.
Burning, loving, through this gentle form :

Whence, if ever from two beautiful eyes
I know not how to turn my look, I know in them
The light which shows me the way which guides me
to God.

36 JOURNAL [Age 6o

And if, kindled at their light, I burn,

In my noble flame sweetly shines

The eternal joy which smiles in Heaven.

College mathematics.^ For a fraction of each
class, say twenty (though I think that is too
many), in a class of more than a hundred, the
whole class is oppressed by a course of mathe-
matics, which is a perpetual fatigue, costing fre-
quently, I am told, five or six hours for the
learning the daily lesson, and that imperfectly,
and thus bereaving the student of his necessary
outdoor exercise. Add to this that, at short in-
tervals, occur the mathematical examinations,
which are serious, really testing the knowledge
which the student has acquired in the foregoing
weeks. The Professor is impartial, and resolved
to know the proficiency of each pupil. The few
good mathematicians easily do their work and
leave the room, which remains occupied for five
or six hours by the rest, who peform in all that
time only a part of the work and retire ex-
hausted and unhappy. The young men are not

I It does not appear for what purpose Mr. Emerson wrote
out his views on this subject, for he had no oiEcial connection
with Harvard University until 1867, when he was chosen an


thus worked with impunity. They lose flesh,
vigour, and spirit. The college, which should
be to them a place of delightful labour, where
their faculties are invited out to studies useful
and agreeable to them, is made odious and
unhealthy, and they are tempted to frivolous
amusements to rally their jaded spirits. It would
be better, no doubt, if they had good teachers.
But in the experience of colleges, it is found
that, whilst good mathematicians are rare, good
teachers of mathematics are much more rare. It
has happened that two or three female teachers
in our schools have had great success, and that
in the college, geometers and analysts of un-
questionable ability utterly fail in the power to
impart their methods to the willing student.
All the aid the student gets is from some chum
who has a little more knowledge than he, and
knows where the difficulty he has just sur-
mounted lay. I have just seen four of these
skeleton sufferers, to whom all the studies in
the University are sufficiently attractive, except-
ing the mathematics, and who find this (which
they do not wish to acquire) thrust into absurd
eminence, absorbing nominally one third of the
academic time in the two first years, and, prac-
tically, often two thirds, a dead weight on the

38 JOURNAL [Age 60

mind and heart of the pupil, to be utterly re-
nounced and forgotten the moment he is left to
the election of his studies, and a painful mem-
ory of wasted years and injured constitution, as
long as he lives.
y Language, Rhetoric, Logic, Ethics, Intel-
lectual Philosophy, Poetry, Natural History,
Civil History, Political Economy, Technology,
Chemistry, Agriculture, Literary History, as,
the genius of Homer, Dante, Shakspeare, and
Goethe; Music and Drawing, even, — all these
may rightly enter into the curriculum, as well
as Mathematics. But it were to hurt the Uni-
versity if any one of these should absorb a dis-
proportionate share of time. The European
universities gave a like supreme emphasis to
the subtleties of Logic in the days of Ockham,
to Theology, when the priesthood controlled
education. Until recently. Natural Science was
almost excluded, and it is inevitable that a man
of genius with a good deal of general power will
for a long period give a bias in his direction to
a University. And that is a public mischief
which the guardians of a college are there to
watch and counterpoise. In the election of a
President, it is not only the students who are
to be controlled, but the Professors, each of


which is, in proportion to his talents, a usurper
who needs to be resisted. '^

May 24.

Yesterday, May 23, we buried Hawthorne in
Sleepy Hollow, in a pomp of sunshine and ver-
dure, and gentle winds. James Freeman Clarke
read the service in the church and at the grave.
Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes, Agassiz, Hoar,
Dwight, Whipple, Norton, Alcott, Hillard,
Fields, Judge Thomas, and I attended the
hearse as pallbearers. Franklin Pierce was with
the family. The church was copiously deco-
rated with white flowers delicately arranged.
The corpse was unwillingly shown, — only a
few moments to this company of his friends.
But it was noble and serene in its aspect, —
nothing amiss, — a calm and powerful head. A
large company filled the church and the grounds
of the cemetery. All was so bright and quiet
that pain or mourning was hardly suggested, and
Holmes said to me that it looked like a happy

Clarke in the church said that Hawthorne had
done more justice than any other to the shades
of life, shown a sympathy with the crime in our
nature, and, like Jesus, was the friend of sinners.

I thought there was a tragic element in the

40 JOURNAL [Age 6i

event, that might be more fully rendered, — in
the painful solitude of the man, which, I sup-
pose, could not longer be endured, and he died
of it.

I have found in his death a surprise and dis-
appointment. I thought him a greater man than
any of his works betray, that there was still a
great deal of work in him, and that he might one
day show a purer power. Moreover, I have felt
sure of him in his neighbourhood, and in his ne-
cessities of sympathy and intelligence, — that I
could well wait his time, — his unwillingness and
caprice, — and might one day conquer a friend-
ship. It would have been a happiness, doubtless
to both of us, to have come into habits of un-
reserved intercourse. It was easy to talk with
him, — there were no barriers, — only, he said
so little, that I talked too much, and stopped
only because, as he gave no indications, I feared
to exceed. He showed no egotism or self-asser-
tion, rather a humility, and, at one time, a fear
that he had written himself out. One day, when
I found him on the top of his hill, in the woods,
he paced back the path to his house, and said,
" 'This path is the only remembrance of me that will
remain." Now it appears that I waited too long.

Lately he had removed himself the more


by the indignation his perverse politics and
unfortunate friendship for that paltry Franklin
Pierce awakened, though it rather moved pity
for Hawthorne, and the assured belief that he
would outlive it, and come right at last.

I have forgotten in what year' [Sept. 27,
1842], but it was whilst he lived in the Manse,
soon after his marriage, that I said to him, "I
shall never see you in this hazardous way; we
must take a long walk together. Will you go to
Harvard and visit the Shakers ? "

He agreedi and we took a June day, and
walked the twelve miles, got our dinner from
the Brethren, slept at the Harvard Inn, and
returned home by another road, the next day.
It was a satisfactory tramp, and we had good
talk on the way, of which I set down some
record in my journal.

Reginald Taylor, a child of six years, was
carried to see his mother's kinsman. President
Day. On his return home, he said, " Mother, I
think that old man loves God too much. You
know I say my prayers when I go to bed; well,
he talks just so all the time."

1 The paragraph which follows was later added to the
above by Mr. Emerson.

42 JOURNAL [Age 6i

(From KL)

June (?)

" Logic the fist, rhetoric the hand." — Zeno.

The genius of a race or family is a stream al-
ways equal to itself and if the present tenant
fishes it too much, the next tenant, his son, will
find the stream poor, and must withhold his nets
and seines. Hence we say, A great man has
not a great son. But this proverb has marked
exceptions : and, it is also observed that intellect
runs in races.

I, too, am fighting my campaign.

So many things require the top of health, the
flower of the mind; the engraver must not lay
stone walls, nor the king's lapidary pave streets.
'Tis fine health that helps itself with lucky ex-
pressions and fit images : — all things offer them-
selves to be words and convey its meaning.
But lassitude has nothing but prose.

What omniscience has music ! So absolutely
impersonal, and yet every sufferer feels his se-
cret sorrow soothed.

Within, I do not find wrinkles and used heart,
but unspent youth.


Value of an opposition. Only the heat of party
can hatch the egg — can formulate the truth
which your party overlooks, and which is, and
will hereafter be admitted to be, the needed
check on your statement.

'T is bad when believers and unbelievers live
in the same manner ; — I distrust the religion.

La carrier e ouverte aux talens. A good stand.

Online LibraryRalph Waldo EmersonJournals of Ralph Waldo Emerson → online text (page 3 of 31)