Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)

download Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)

of 286

Embed Size (px)

Transcript of Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    i:ii\3ci:.sitic o^tiitiott

    essays: second seriesBEING VOLUME III.



  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)





    BetD anU KetiseU Utttan


    BOSTONHOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANYNew York: 11 East Seventeenth Street

    (Cfee CiiuersiDe l^res^, o&1897

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    Copyright, 1856 and 18T6,By RALPH WALDO EMERSON.

    Copyright, 1883,B? EDWARD W. EMERSON.

    All rights reserved.

    The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U. S. A.Electrotyped and Printed by H. 0. Houghton & Company.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)



    I. The Poet .....,. 7II. Experience o . . 47

    III. Character 87IV. Manners 115V. Gifts 151VI. Nature 161VII. Politics ......... 189VIII. Nominalist and Realist ..... 213New England Reformers. Lecture at Amorj Hall . 237

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)



    A moody child and wildly wisePursued the game with joyfid eyes,Which chose, like meteors, their way,And rived the dark with private rayThey overleapt the horizon's edge,Searched with Apollo's privilege ;Through man, and woman, and sea, and starSaw the dance of nature forward far ;Through worlds, and races, and terms, and timesSaw musical order, and pairing rhymes.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    Olympian bards who sungDivine ideas below,

    Which always find us young,And always keep us so.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)



    Those who are esteemed uiiij)ires of taste areoften persons who have acquired some knowledgeof admired pictures or sculptures, and have an in-clination for whatever is elegant ; but if you inquirewhether they are beautiful souls, and whether theirown acts are like fair pictures, you learn that theyare selfish and sensual. Their cultivation is local,as if you should rub a log of dry wood in one spotto produce fire, all the rest remaining cold. Theirknowledge of the fine arts is some study of rulesand particulars, or some limited judgment of coloror form, which is exercised for amusement or forshow. It is a proof of the shallowness of the doc-trine of beauty as it lies in the minds of our ama-teurs, that men seem to have lost the perception ofthe instant dependence of form upon soul. Thereis no doctrine of forms in our philosophy. Wewere put into our bodies, as fire is put into a panto be carried about ; but there is no accurate adjustment between the spirit and the organ, much

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    10 THE POET.less is the latter the germination of the former. Soin regard to other forms, the intellectual men donot believe in any essential dependence of the ma-terial world on thought and volition. Theologiansthink it a pretty air-castle to talk of the spiritualmeaning of a ship or a cloud, of a city or a con-tract, but they prefer to come again to the solidground of historical evidence ; and even the poetsare contented with a ci\al and conformed mannerof living, and to write poems from the fancy, at asafe distance from their own experience. But thehio:hest minds of the world have never ceased toexplore the double meaning, or shall I say thequadruple or the centuple or much more manifoldmeaning, of every sensuous fact ; Orpheus, Eniped-ocles, Heraclitus, Plato, Plutarch, Dante, Swe-denborg, and the masters of sculpture, picture, andpoetry. For we are not pans and barrows, noreven porters of the fire and torch-bearers, but chil-dren of the fire, made of it, and only the same di-vinity transmuted and at two or three removes,w^hen we know least about it. And this hiddentruth, that the fountains whence all tliis river ofTime and its creatures floweth are intrinsicallyideal and beautiful, draws us to the considerationof the nature and functions of the Poet, or theman of Beauty ; to the means and materials heuses, and to the general aspect of the art in thepresent time.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 11The breadth of the problem is great, for the poet

    is representative. He stands among partial menfor the complete man, and apprises us not of hiswealth, but of the common wealth. The youngman reveres men of genius, because, to speak truly,they are more himself than he is. They receive ofthe soul as he also receives, but they more. Natureenhances her beauty, to the ej^e of loving men,from their belief that the poet is beholding hershows at the same time. He is isolated among hiscontemporaries by truth and by his art, but withthis consolation in his pursuits, that they wdll drawall men sooner or later. For all men live by truthand stand in need of expression. In love, in art,in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we studyto utter our painful secret. The man is only halfhimself, the other half is his expression.

    Notwithstanding this necessity to be published,adequate expression is rare. I know not how itis that we need an interpreter, but the great major-ity of men seem to be minors, who have not yeicome into possession of their own, or mutes, whocannot report the conversation they have had withnature. There is no man who does not anticipatea suj^ersensual utility in the sun and stars, earthand water. These stand and wait to render him apeculiar service. But there is some obstruction orsome excess of phlegm in our constitution, which

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    12 THE POET.does not suffer them to yield tlie due effect. Toofeeble fall the impressions of nature on us to makeus artists. Every touch should thrill. Every manshould be so much an artist that he could report inconversation what had befallen him. Yet, in curexperience, the rays or appulses have sufficientforce to arrive at the senses, but not enough toreach the quick and compel the reproduction ofthemselves in speech. The poet is the person inwhom these powers are in balance, the man with-out impediment, who sees and handles that whichothers dream of, traverses the whole scale of expe-rience, and is representative of man, in virtue ofbeing the largest power to receive and to im-part.

    For the Universe has three children, born atone time, which reappear under different namesin every system of thought, whether they be calledcause, operation, and effect ; or, more poetically,Jove, Pluto, Neptune ; or, theologically, the Father,the Spirit, and the Son ; but which we ^\'ill callhere the Knower, the Doer, and the Sayer, Thesestand respectively for the love of truth, for thelove of good, and for the love of beauty. Thesethree are equal. Each is that which he is, essen-tially, so that he cannot be surmounted or ana^lyzed, and each of these three has the power of theothers latent in him, and his o\mi, patent.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 13The poet Is tlie sayer, the namer, and represents

    beauty. He is a sovereign, and stands on the cen-tre. For the world is not painted or adorned, butis from the beginning beautiful ; and God has notmade some beautiful things, but Beauty is the cre-ator of the universe. Therefore the poet is not anypermissive potentate, but is emperor in his ownrisfht. Criticism is infested with a cant of materiaalism, which assumes that manual skill and activityis the first merit of all men, and disparages suchas say and do not, overlooking the fact thai: somemen, namely poets, are natural sayers, sent into theworld to the end of expression, and confounds themwith those whose province is action but who quit itto imitate the sayers. But Homer's words are ascostly and admirable to Homer as Agamemnon'svictories are to Agamemnon. The poet does notwait for the hero or the sage, but, as they act andthink primarily, so he writes primarily what willand must be spoken, reckoning the others, thoughprimaries also, yet, in respect to him, secondariesand servants ; as sitters or models in the studio ofa painter, or as assistants who bring building-mate-rials to an architect.

    For poetry was all written before time was, andwhenever we are so finely organized that we canpenetrate into that region where the air is music,we hear those primal warbiings and attempt tc

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    14 THE POET.write them clown, but we lose ever and anon a wordor a verse and substitute something of our own,and thus miswrite the poem. The men of moredelicate ear wi-ite down these cadences more faith-fully, and these transcripts, though imperfect, be-come the songs of the nations. For nature is astruly beautiful as it is good, or as it is reasonable,and must as much appear as it must be done, or beknown. Words and deeds are quite indifferentmodes of the di^ine energy. "Words are also ac-tions, and actions are a kind of words.The sign and credentials of the poet are that he

    announces that which no man foretold. He is thetrue and only doctor ; he knows and tells ; he isthe only teller of news, for he was present and privyto the appearance which he describes. He is a be-holder of ideas and an utterer of the necessary andcausal. For we do not speak now of men of poeticaltalents, or of industry and skill in metre, but of thetrue poet. I took part in a conversation the otherday concerning a recent writer of lyrics, a man ofsubtle mind, whose head appeared to be a music-box of delicate tunes and rhythms, and whose skilland command of language we could not sufficientlypraise. But when the question arose whether hewas not only a lyrist but a poet, we were obliged toconfess that he is plainly a contemporary, not aneternal man. He does not stand out of our low

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 15limitations, like a Chimborazo under the line, rim-ning' up from a torrid base through all the climatesof the globe, with belts of the herbage of every lat-itude on its high and mottled sides ; but this gen-ius is the landscape -garden of a modern house,adorned with fountains and statues, with well-bredmen and women standing and sitting in the walksand terraces. We hear, through all the variedmusic, the ground-tone of conventional life. Ourpoets are men of talents vv^ho sing, and not the chil-dren of music. The argument is secondary, thefinish of the verses is primary.

    For it is not metres, but a metre-making argu-ment that makes a poem, a thought so passionateand alive that like the spirit of a plant or an ani-mal it has an architecture of its own, and adornsnature \\dth a new thino^. The thouo'ht and theform are equal in the order of time, but in the or-der of genesis the thought is prior to the form. Thepoet has a new thought ; he has a whole new expe-rience to unfold ; he will tell us how it was withhim, and all men will be the richer in his fortune.For the experience of each new age requires a newconfession, and the world seems always waiting forits poet. I remember when I was young how muchI was moved one morning by tidings that geniushad appeared in a youth who sat near me at table.He had left his vrork and gone rambling none knew

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    16 THE POET.wliitlier, and had written hundreds of lines, butcould not tell whether that which was in him wastherein told ; he coidd tell nothing but that allwas changed, man, beast, heaven, earth and sea.How gladly we listened ! how credulous ! Society-seemed to be compromised. We sat in the auroraof a sunrise wdiich w^as to put out all the stars,Boston seemed to be at twice the distance it hadthe night before, or was much farther than that.Rome, what was Rome ? Plutarch and Shak-speare w^ere in the yellow leaf, and Homer no moreshould be heard of. It is much to know that po-etry has been written this very da}^ under this veryroof, by your side. What ! that wonderful spirithas not expired ! These stony moments are stillsparkling and animated ! I had fancied that theoracles were all silent, and nature had spent herfires ; and behold ! all night, from every pore, thesefine auroras have been streaming. Every one hassome interest in the advent of the poet, and no oneknows how much it may concern him. We knowthat the secret of the world is profound, but who orwhat shall be our interpreter, we know not. Amomitain ramble, a new style of face, a new person,may put the key into our hands. Of course thevalue of genius to us is in the veracity of its report.Talent may frolic and juggle ; genius realizes andadds. Mankind in good earnest have availed so fai

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 17in understanding themselves and their work, thatthe foremost watchman on the peak announces hisnews. It is the truest word ever spoken, and thephrase will be the fittest, most musical, and the un-erring voice of the world for that time^

    All that we call sacred history attests that thebirth of a poet is the principal event in chronology.Man, never so often deceived, still v/atches for thearrival of a brother w^ho can hold him steady to atruth until he has made it his own. With whatjoy I begin to read a poem which I confide in as aninspiration ! And now my chains are to be brokenI shall mount above these clouds and opaque airs inwhich I live, opaque, though they seem transpar-ent, and from the heaven of truth I shall seeand comprehend my relations. That will reconcileme to life and renovate nature, to see trifles ani-mated by a tendency, and to know what I am doing.Life will no more be a noise ; now I shall see menand women, and know the signs by which they maybe discerned from fools and satans. This day shallbe better than my birthday : then I became an ani-mal ; now I am invited into the science of the real.Such is the hope, but the fruition is postponed. Of-tener it falls that this winged man, who will carryme into the heaven, whirls me into mists, then leapsand frisks about with me as it were from cloud tocloud, still affirming that he is bound heavenward ;

    VOL. 111. 2

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    18 THE POET.and I, being mj^self a novice, am slow in percei"\dngthat he does not know the way into the heavens, andis merely bent that I should admire his skill to riselike a fowl or a flying fish, a little way from theground or the water ; but the all-piercing, all-feed-ing, and ocular air of heaven that man shall neverinhabit. I tumble down again soon into my oldnooks, and lead the life of exaggerations as before,and have lost my faith in the possibility of anyguide who can lead me thither where I would be.

    But, leaving these \"ictims of vanity, let us, withnew hope, observe how nature, by worthier im-pulses, has insured the poet's fidelity to his officeof announcement and affirming, namely by thebeauty of things, which becomes a 'lew and higherbeauty when expressed. Nature offers all her crea-tures to him as a picture-language. Being used asa type, a second wonderful value appears in the ob-ject, far better than its old value ; as the carpen-ter's stretched cord, if you hold your ear closeenough, is musical in the breeze. '^ Things moreexcellent than every image," says Jamblichus, " areexpressed through images." Things admit of be-ing used as symbols because nature is a symbol, inthe whole, and in every part. Every line we candraw in the sand has expression; and there is nobody without its spirit or genius. All form is aneffect of character ; all condition, of the quality oi

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 19the life ; all harmony, of health ; and for this rea-son a perception of beauty should be sympathetic,or proper only to the good. The beautiful rests onthe foundations of the necessary. The soul makesthe body, as the wise Spenser teaches :

    " So every spirit, as it is more piire,And hath in it the more of heavenly light,So it the fairer body doth procureTo habit in, and it more fairly diglit,With cheerful grace and amiable sight.For, of the soul, the body form doth take,For soul is form, and doth the body make.'*

    Here we find ourselves suddenly not in a criticalspeculation but in a holy place, and should go verywarily and reverently. We stand before the secretof the world, there where Being passes into Appear-ance and Unity into Variety.The Universe is the externization of the soul.

    Wherever the life is, that bursts into appearancearound it. Our science is sensual, and thereforesuperficial. The earth and the heavenly bodies,physics, and chemistry, we sensually treat, as ifthey were self-existent ; but these are the retinue ofthat Being we have. " The mighty heaven," saidProclus, " exhibits, in its transfigurations, clearimages of the splendor of intellectual perceptionsbeing moved in conjunction with the unapparentperiods of intellectual natures." Therefore science

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    20 THE POET.always goes abreast with the just elevation of theman, kee23ing step with religion and metaphysicsor the state of science is an index of our self-knowl-edge. Since every thing in nature answers to amoral power, if any phenomenon remains brute anddark it is because the corresponding faculty in theobserver is not yet active.No wonder then, if these waters be so deep, that

    w^e hover over them wdth a religious regard. Thebeauty of the fable j^roves the importance of thesense; to the poet, and to all others; or, if youplease, every man is so far a poet as to be suscep-tible of these enchantments of nature ; for all menhave the thoughts whereof the universe is the cele-bration. I find that the fascination resides in thesymbol. Who loves nature ? Who does not ? Isit only poets, and men of leisure and cultivation,who live with her ? No ; but also hunters, farmers,grooms, and butchers, though they express their af-fection in their choice of life and not in their choiceof words. The writer wonders w^hat the coachmanor the hunter values in riding, in horses and dogs.It is not superficial qualities. When you talk withhim he holds these at as slight a rate as you. Hisworship is sympathetic ; he has no definitions, buthe is commanded in nature by the li\dng powerwhich he feels to be there present. No imitation orplaying of these things would content him ; he loves

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 21fche earnest of the north wind, of rain, of stone, andwood, and iron. A beauty not explicable is dearerthan a beauty which we can see to the end of. Itis nature the symbol, nature certifpng the super-natural, body overflowed by life which he worshipswith coarse but sincere rites.The inwardness and mystery of this attachment

    drive men of every class to the use of emblems.The schools of poets and philosophers are not moreintoxicated with their symbols than the populacewith theirs. In our political parties, compute thepower of badges and emblems. See the great ballwhich they roll from Baltimore to Bunker Hill!In the political processions, Lowell goes in a loom,and Lynn in a shoe, and Salem in a ship. Witnessthe cider-barrel, the log-cabin, the hickory-stick, thepalmetto, and all the cognizances of party. See thepower of national emblems. Some stars, lilies,leopards, a crescent, a lion, an eagle, or other figurewhich came into credit God knows how, on an oldrag of bunting, blowing in the wind on a fort atthe ends of the earth, shall make the blood tingleunder the rudest or the most conventional exterior.The people fancy they hate poetry, and they are aUpoets and mysticsBeyond this universality of the symbolic language,we are apprised of the divineness of this superiorase of things, whereby the world is a temple whos

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    22 THE POET.walls are covered with emblems, pictures, and com*mandments of the Deity, in this, that there is nofact in nature which does not carry the whole senseof nature ; and the distinctions which we make inevents and in affairs, of low and high, honest andbase, disappear when nature is used as a symbol.Thought makes everything fit for use. The vocab-ulary of an omniscient man would embrace wordsand images excluded from polite conversation.What would be base, or even obscene, to the ob-scene, becomes illustrious, spoken in a new connec-tion of thought. The piety of the Hebrew prophetspurges their grossness. The circumcision is an ex-ample of the power of poetry to raise the low andoffensive. Small and mean things serve as well asgreat symbols. The meaner the type by which alaw is expressed, the more pungent it is, and themore lasting in the memories of men ; just as wechoose the smallest box or case in which any need-ful utensil can be carried. Bare lists of wordsare found suggestive to an imaginative and excitedmind ; as it is related of Lord Chatham that he wasaccustomed to read in Bailey's Dictionary when hewas preparing to speak in Parliament. The poor-est experience is rich enough for all the purposes ofexpressing thought. Why covet a knowledge ofnew facts? Day and night, house and garden, afew books, a few actions, serve us as well as wouhl

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 23all trades and all spectacles. We are far fromhaving exhausted the significance of the few sjTn-bols we use. We can come to use them yet with aterrible simplicity. It does not need that a poemshould be long. Every w^ord was once a poem.Every new relation is a new word. Also we usedefects and deformities to a sacred purpose, so ex-pressing our sense that the evils of the world aresuch only to the evil eye. In the old mythology,mythologists observe, defects are ascribed to divinenatures, as lameness to Vulcan, blindness to Cupid,and the like, to signify exuberances.

    For as it is dislocation and detachment from thelife of God that makes things ugly, the poet, whore-attaches things to nature and the Whole, re-attaching even artificial things and violations ofnature, to nature, by a deeper insight, disposesvery easily of the most disagreeable facts. Read-ers of poetry see the factory-village and the rail-way, and fancy that the poetry of the landscape isbroken up by these ; for these works of art are notyet consecrated in their reading ; but the poet seesthem fall within the great Order not less than thebeehive or the spider's geometrical web. Natureadopts them very fast into her vital circles, and thegliding train of cars she loves like her own. B^sides, in a centred mind, it signifies nothing howCQany mechanical inventions you exhibit. Thougii

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    24 THE POET.you add millions, and never so surprising, the factof meclianics has not gained a grain's weight. Thespiritual fact remains unalterable, by many or byfew particulars ; as no mountain is of any appreci-able height to break the curve of the sphere. Ashrewd country-boy goes to the city for the firsttime, and the complacent citizen is not satisfiedwith his little wonder. It is not that he does notsee all the fine houses and know that he never sawsuch before, but he disposes of them as easily asthe poet finds place for the railway. The chiefvalue of the new fact is to enhance the great andconstant fact of Life, which can dwarf any andevery circumstance, and to which the belt of wam-pum and the commerce of America are alike.The world being thus put under the mind for

    verb and noun, the poet is he who can articulate it.For though life is great, and fascinates and absorbsand though all men are intelligent of the symbolsthrough which it is named; yet they cannot origi-nally use them. We are symbols and inhabit sym-bols ; workmen, work, and tools, words and things,birth and death, all are emblems ; but we sympa-thize with the symbols, and being infatuated withthe economical uses of things, we do not know thatthey are thoughts. The poet, by an ulterior intel-lectual perception, gives them a power which makestheir old use forgotten, and puts eyes and a tongue

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 25Into every dumb and inanimate object. He per-ceives the independence of the thought on the sym-bol, the stability of the thought, the accidency andfugacity of the symbol. As the eyes of Lyncaeuswere said to see through the earth, so the poet turns,the world to glass, and shows us all things in theirright series and procession. For through that bet-ter perception he stands one step nearer to things,and sees the flowing or metamorphosis ; perceivesthat thought is multiform ; that within the form ofevery creature is a force impelling it to ascend intoa higher form ; and following with his eyes the life,uses the forms which express that life, and so hisspeech flows with the flowing of nature. All thefacts of the animal economy, sex, nutriment, ges-tation, birth, growth, are symbols of the passage ofthe world into the soul of man, to suffer there achange and reappear a new and higher fact. Heuses forms according to the life, and not accordingto the form. This is true science. The poet aloneknows astronomy, chemistry, vegetation and anima-tion, for he does not stop at these facts, but employsthem as signs. He knows why the plain or meadowof space was strown with these flowers we call sunsand moons and stars ; why the great deep is adornedwith animals, with men, and gods ; for in everyword he speaks he rides on them as the horses ofthought.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    26 THE POET.By virtue of this science tlie poet is the Namer

    or Language-maker, naming things sometimes aftertheir appearance, sometimes after their essence, andgiving to every one its own name and not another's,thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights indetachment or boundary. The poets made all thewords, and therefore language is the archives ofhistory, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb ofthe muses. For though the origin of most of ourwords is forgotten, each word was at first a strokeof genius, and obtained currency because for themoment it symbolized the world to the first speakerand to the hearer. The etymologist finds the dead-est word to have been once a brilliant picture.Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of thecontinent consists of infinite masses of the shells ofanimalcules, so language is made up of images ortropes, which now, in their secondary use, have longceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But thepoet names the thing because he sees it, or comesone step nearer to it than any other. This expres-sion or naming is not art, but a second nature,grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree. Whatwe call nature is a certain self-regulated motion orchange ; and nature does all things by her ovtqhands, and does not leave another to baptize heibut baptizes herself ; and this through the meta^morphosis again. I remember that a certain poetdescribed it to me thus ; ~

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 27Genius is the activity which repairs the decays

    of things, whether wholly or partly of a materialand finite kind. Nature, through all her king-doms, insures herself. Nobody cares for plantingthe poor fungus ; so she shakes do^vTi from the gillsof one agaric countless spores, any one of which,being preserved, transmits new billions of sporesto-morrow or next day. The new agaric of thishour has a chance which the old one had not.This atom of seed is thrown into a new place, notsubject to the accidents which destroyed its parenttwo rods off. She makes a man ; and havingbrought him to ripe age, she will no longer run therisk of losing this wonder at a blow, but she de-taches from him a new self, that the kind may beeafe from accidents to which the individual is ex-posed. So when the soul of the poet has come toripeness of thought, she detaches and sends awayfrom it its poems or songs, a fearless, sleepless,deathless progeny, which is not exposed to the acci-dents of the weary kingdom of time ; a fearless,vivacious offspring, clad with wings (such was thevirtue of the soul out of which they came) whichcarry them fast and far, and infiix them irrecovera-bly into the hearts of men. These wings are thebeauty of the poet's soul. The songs, thus flyingimmortal from their mortal parent, are pursued byclamorous flights of censures, which swarm in far

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    28 THE POET,greater numbers and threaten to devour tLem ; butthese last are not winged. At the end of a veryshort leap they fall plump down and rot, having re-ceived from the souls out of which they came nobeautifid wings. But the melodies of the poet ascend and leap and pierce into the deeps of infinitetime.

    So far the bard taught me, using his freeispeech. But nature has a higher end, in the pro-duction of new individuals, than security, namelyascension^ or the passage of the soul into higherforms. I knew in my younger days the scidptorwho made the statue of the youth which stands inthe public garden. He was, as I remember, unableto tell directly what made him happy or unhappy,but by wonderful indirections he could tell. Herose one day, according to his habit, before thedawn, and saw the morning break, grand as theeternity out of which it came, and for many daysafter, he strove to express this tranquillity, and lohis chisel had fashioned out of marble the form ofa beautiful youth. Phosphorus, whose aspect is suchthat it is said all persons w^ho look on it becomesilent. The poet also resigns himself to his mood,and that thought which agitated him is expressed,but alter idem^ in a manner totally new. The ex.pression is organic, or the new type which things

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 29themselves take wlien liberated. As., in the sun, ob-jects paint their images on the retina o the eye, sothey, sharing the aspiration of the whole universe,tend to paint a far more delicate copy of their es-sence in his mind. Like the metamorphosis ofthings into higher organic forms is their change;into melodies. Over everything stands its daemon'or soul, and, as the form of the thing is reflectedby the eye, so the soul of the thing is reflected by amelody. The sea, the mountain-ridge, Niagara, andevery flower-bed, pre-exist, or super-exist, in pre-can-tations, which sail like odors in the air, and whenany man goes by with an ear sufficiently fine, heoverhears them and endeavors to write down thenotes without diluting or depraving them. Andherein is the legitimation of criticism, in the mind'sfaith that the poems are a corrupt version of sometext in nature with which they ought to be made totally. A rhyme in one of our sonnets should notbe less pleasing than the iterated nodes of a sea-shell, or the resembling difference of a group offlowers. The pairing of the birds is an idyl, nottedious as our idyls are ; a tempest is a rough ode,without falsehood or rant ; a summer, with itsharvest sown, reaped, and stored, is an epic song,subordinating how many admirably executed parts.Why should not the symmetry and truth that mod-ulate these, glide into our spirits, and we partici-pate the invention of nature ?

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    30 THE POET.This insiglit, which expresses itself by what is

    called Imagination, is a very high sort of seeing,which does not com.e by study, but by the intellectbeing where and what it sees ; by sharing the pathor cu'cuit of things through forms, and so makingthem translucid to others. The path of things issilent. Will they suffer a speaker to go with them ?A spy they will not suffer ; a lover, a poet, is thetranscendency of their own nature, him they willsuffer. The condition of true naming, on the poet'spart, is his resigning himself to the divine aurawhich breathes tln'ough forms, and accompanyingthat.

    It is a secret which every intellectual manquickly learns, that beyond the energy of his pos-sessed and conscious intellect he is capable of a newenergy (as of an intellect doubled on itself), byabandonment to the nature of things ; that besidehis privacy of power as an individual man, there isa great public power on which he can draw, by un-locking, at aU risks, his human doors, and sufferingthe ethereal tides to roll and circulate through him ;then he is caught up into the life of the Universe,his speech is thunder, his thought is law, and hiswords are universally intelligible as the plants andanimals. The poet knows that he speaks ade-quately then only when he speaks somewhat wildly,or ^' with the flower of the mind ; " not with the in

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 31feellect used as an organ, but with the intellect re-leased from all service and suffered to take its di-rection from its celestial life; or as the ancientswere wont to express themselves, not with intellectalone but with the intellect inebriated by nectar.As the traveller who has lost his way throws hisreins on his horse's neck and trusts to the instinctof the animal to find his road, so must we do withthe divine animal who carries us through this world.For if in any manner we can stimulate this instinct,new passages are opened for us into nature ; themind flows into and through things hardest andhighest, and the metamorphosis is possible.

    This is the reason why bards love wine, mead,narcotics, coffee, tea, opium, the fumes of sandal-wood and tobacco, or whatever other procurers ofanimal exhilaration. All men avail themselves ofsuch means as they can, to add this extraordinarypower to their normal powers ; and to this end theyprize conversation, music, pictures, sculpture, danc-ing, theatres, travelling, war, mobs, fires, gaming,politics, or love, or science, or animal intoxication,. which are several coarser or finer 2'2^asi-mechan-ical substitutes for the true nectar, which is the rav-ishment of the intellect by coming nearer to thefact. These are auxiliaries to the centrifugal ten-dency of a man, to his passage out into free space,and they help him to escape the custody of that body

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    32 THE POET.in whicli he is pent up, and of that jail-yard of in-dividual relations in which he is enclosed. Hencea great number of such as were professionally ex-pressers of Beauty, as painters, poets, musicians,and actors, have been more than others wont to leada life of pleasure and indulgence ; all but the fewwho received the true nectar ; and, as it was a spu^rious mode of attaining freedom, as it was an eman-cipation not into the heavens but into the freedomof baser places, they were punished for that advan-tage they won, by a dissipation and deterioration.But never can any advantage be taken of nature bya trick. The sj^irit of the world, the great calmpresence of the Creator, comes not forth to the sor-ceries of opium or of wine. The sublime visioncomes to the pure and simple soul in a clean andchaste body. That is not an inspiration, which weowe to narcotics, but some counterfeit excitementand fury. Milton says that the lyric poet maydrink wine and live generously, but the epic poet,he who shall smg of the gods and their descentunto men, must drink water out of a wooden bowl.For poetry is not ' Devil's wine,' but God's wine.It is with this as it is with toys. We fill the handsand nurseries of our children with all manner ofdolls, drums, and horses ; withdrawing their eyesfrom the plain face and sufficing objects of nature,the sun, and moon, the animals, the water, and

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 33Stones, which should be their toys. So the poet'sha,bit of living should be set on a key so low thatthe common influences should delight him. Hischeerfulness should be the gift of the simlight ; theair should suffice for his inspiration, and he shouldbe tipsy with water. That spirit which sufficesquiet hearts, which seems to come forth to suchfrom every dry knoll of sere grass, from every pine=stump and half-imbedded stone on which the dullMarch sun shines, comes forth to the poor and hun-gry, and such as are of simple taste. If thou fillthy brain with Boston and New York, with fash-ion and covetousness, and wilt stimulate thy jadedsenses with wine and French coffee, thou shalt findno radiance of wisdom in the lonely w^aste of thepinewoods.

    If the imagination intoxicates the poet, it is notinactive in other men. The metamorphosis excitesin the beholder an emotion of joy. The use ofsymbols has a certain power of emancipation andexhilaration for all men. We seem to be touchedby a wand which makes us dance and run abouthappily, like children. We are like persons whocome out of a cave or cellar into the open air.This is the effect on us of tropes, fables, oracles,and all poetic forms. Poets are thus liberatinggods. Men have really got a new sense, and foundwithin their world another world, or nest of worlds

    VOL. III. 3

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    34 THE POET.for, the metamorpliosis once seen, we divine that itdoes not stop. I will not now consider how muchthis makes the charm of algebra and the mathematics, which also have their tropes, but it is felt inevery definition; as when Aristotle defines si^aceto be an immovable vessel in which things are con-tained ; or when Plato defines a line to be a flow-ing point ; or figure to be a bound of solid ; andmany the like. What a joyfid sense of freedomwe have when Vitruvius announces the old opinionof artists that no architect can build any housewell who does not know something of anatomy.When Socrates, in Charmides, tells us that thesoul is cured of its maladies by certain incantations,and that these incantations are beautiful reasons,from which temperance is generated in souls ; whenPlato calls the woi^d an animal, and Timasus af-firms that the plants also are animals ; or affirmsa man to be a heavenly tree, growing with his root,which is his head, upward ; and, as George Chap-man, following him, writes,

    " So in our tree of man, whose nervie rootSprings in his top ; "

    when Orpheus speaks of hoariness as "that whiteflower which marks extreme old age ; " when Pro-clus calls the universe the statue of the intellect ,iivhsn Chaucer, in his praise of ' Gentilesse,' com-

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 35pares good blood in mean condition to fire, wHcli,though carried to the darkest house betwixt thisand the mount of Caucasus, will yet hold its natu-ral office and burn as bright as if twenty thousandmen did it behold ; when John saw, in the Apoca=lypse, the ruin of the world through evil, and thestars fall from heaven as the figtree casteth heruntimely fruit ; when ^sop reports the whole catalogue of common daily relations through the mas-querade of birds and beasts ; we take the cheer-ful hint of the immortality of our essence and itsversatile habit and escapes, as when the gypsies sayof themselves "it is in vain to hang them, theycannot die."The poets are thus liberating gods. The ancient

    British bards had for the title of their order," Those who are free throughout the world." Theyare free, and they make free. An imaginativebook renders us much more service at first, by stim-ulating us through its tropes, than afterward whenwe arrive at the precise sense of the author. Ithink nothing is of any value in books exceptingthe transcendental and extraordinary. If a man isinflamed and carried away by his thought, to thatdegree that he forgets the authors and the publicand heeds only this one dream which holds himlike an insanity, let me read his paper, and youmay have all the arguments and histories and criti-

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    36 THE POET.cism. All the value which attaches to P5i:hagoras,Paracelsus, Cornelius Agrippa, Cardan, Kepler,Swedenborg, Schelling, Oken, or any other who in-troduces questionable facts into his cosmogony, asangels, devils, magi 3, astrology, palmistry, mesmer-ism, and so on, is the certificate we have of depar-ture from routine, and that here is a new ^dtness.That also is the best success in conversation, themagic of liberty, which puts the world like a ballin our hands. How cheap even the liberty thenseems; how mean to study, when an emotion com-municates to the intellect the power to sap and up-heave nature ; how great the perspective ! nations,times, systems, enter and disappear like threads intapestry of large figure and many colors ; dreamdelivers us to dream, and while the drunkennesslasts we will sell our bed, our philosophy, our re-ligion, in our opulence.

    There is good reason why we should prize thisliberation. The fate of the poor shepherd, who,blinded and lost in the snow-storm, perishes in adrift within a few feet of his cottage door, is anemblem of the state of man. On the brink of thewaters of life and truth, we are miserably dying.The inaccessibleness of every thought but that weare in, is wonderful. What if you come near to ityou are as remote when you are nearest as whenyou are farthest. Every thought is also a prison ;

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 37every heaven is also a prison. Therefore we lovethe poet, the inventor, who in any form, whether inan ode or in an action or in looks and behaviorhas yielded us a new thought. He unlocks ourchains and admits us to a new scene.

    This emancipation is dear to all men, and thepower to impart it, as it must come from greaterdepth and scope of thought, is a measure of intel-lect. Therefore all books of the imagination en-dure, all which ascend to that truth that the writersees nature beneath him, and uses it as his expo-nent. Every verse or sentence possessing this vir-tue will take care of its own immortality. The re-ligions of the world are the ejaculations of a fewimaginative men.

    But the quality of the imagination is to flow, andnot to freeze. The poet did not stop at the coloror the form, but read their meaning ; neither mayhe rest in this meaning, but he makes the same ob-jects exponents of his new thought. Here is thedifference betwixt the poet and the mystic, that thelast nails a symbol to one sense, which was a truesense for a moment, but soon becomes old andfalse. For all symbols are fluxional ; all languagexs vehicular and transitive, and is good, as ferriesand horses are, for conveyance, not as farms andhouses are, for homestead. Mysticism consists inthe mistake of an accidental and individual symbol

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    38 THE POET.for an universal one. The morning-redness hap-pens to be the favorite meteor to the eyes of JacobBehmen, and comes to stand to him for truth andfaith ; and, he believes, should stand for the samerealities to every reader. But the first reader prefers as naturally the symbol of a mother and child,or a gardener and his bulb, or a jeweller polishinga gem. Either of these, or of a myriad more, areequally good to the person to whom they are sig-nificant. Only they must be held lightly, and bevery willingly translated into the equivalent termswhich others use. And the mystic must be steadilytold, All that you say is just as true without thetedious use of that symbol as with it. Let us havea little algebra, instead of this trite rhetoric,universal signs, instead of these village symbols, and we shall both be gainers. The history ofhierarchies seems to show that all religious errorconsisted in making the symbol too stark and solid,and was at last nothing but an excess of the organof language.

    Swedenborg, of all men in the recent ages, standseminently for the translator of nature into thought.I do not know the man in history to whom thingsstood so uniformly for words. Before him the\netamorphosis continually plays. Everything onwhich his eye rests, obeys the impulses of moralnature. The figs become grapes whilst he eats

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 39them. When some of his angels affirmed a truth,the laurel twig which they held blossomed in theirhands. The noise which at a distance appearedlike gnashing and thumping, on coming nearer wasfound to be the voice of disputants. The men inone of his visions, seen in heavenly light, appearedlike dragons, and seemed in darkness ; but to eachother they appeared as men, and when the lightfrom heaven shone into their cabin, they com-plained of the darkness, and were compelled toshut the window that they might see.

    There was this perception in him which makesche poet or seer an object of awe and terror, name-ly that the same man or society of men may wearone aspect to themselves and their companions,and a different aspect to higher intelligences. Cer-tain priests, whom he describes as conversing verylearnedly together, appeared to the children whowere at some distance, like dead horses ; and manythe like misappearances. And instantly the mindinquires whether these fishes under the bridge, yon-der oxen in the pasture, those dogs in the yard, areimmutably fishes, oxen, and dogs, or only so appearto me, and perchance to themselves appear uprightmen ; and whether I appear as a man to all eyes.The Bramins and Pythagoras propounded the samequestion, and if any poet has witnessed the trans-formation he doubtless found it in harmony with

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    40 THE POET.various experiences. We liave all seen changes asconsiderable in wheat and caterpillars. He is thepoet and shall draw us with love and terror, whosees through the flowing vest the firm nature, andcan declare it.

    I look in vain for the poet whom I describee'We do not with sufficient plainness or sufficientprofoundness address ourselves to life, nor dare wechaunt our own times and social circumstance. Ifwe filled the day with bravery, we should notshrink from celebrating it. Time and nature peldus many gifts, but not yet the timely man, the newreligion, the reconciler, whom all things await.Dante's praise is that he dared to write his auto-biography in colossal cipher, or into universality.We have yet had no genius in America, mth tyran-nous eye, which knew the value of our incompa-rable materials, and saw, in the barbarism andmaterialism of the times, another carnival of thesame gods whose picture he so much admires inHomer ; then in the Middle Age ; then in Cahdn-ism. Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus,Methodism and Unitarianism, are flat and dull todull people, but rest on the same foundations ofwonder as the town of Troy and the temple of Del-phi, and are as swiftly passing away. Our logroll*ing, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries,our Negroes and Indians, our boats and our repu'

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 41diations, the wrath of rogues and the pusillanimityof honest men, the northern trade, the southernplanting, the western clearing, Oregon and Texas,are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem in oureyes ; its ample geography dazzles the imagination,and it will not wait long for metres. If I have notfound that excellent combination of gifts in mycountrymen which I seek, neither could I aid my-self to fix the idea of the poet by reading now andthen in Chahners's collection of ^yq centuries ofEnglish poets. These are wits more than poets,though there have been poets among them. Butwhen we adhere to the ideal of the poet, we haveour difficulties even with Milton and Homer. Mil-ton is too literary, and Homer too literal and his-torical.

    But I am not wise enough for a national criti-cism, and must use the old largeness a little longer,to discharge my errand from the muse to the poetconcerning his art.

    Art is the path of the creator to his work. Thepaths or methods are ideal and eternal, though fewmen ever see them ; not the artist himself for years,or for a lifetime, unless he come into the conditions.The painter, the scidptor, the composer, the epicrhapsodist, the orator, all partake one desire, namelyto express themselves symmetrically and abundant-ly, not dwarfishly and fragmentarily. They found

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    42 THE POET.or put themselves in certain conditions, as, thepainter and sculptor before some impressive humanfigures ; the orator, into the assembly of the peo-ple ; and the others in such scenes as each hasfound exciting to his intellect ; and each presentlyfeels the new desire. He hears a voice, he sees abeckoning. Then he is apprised, with w^onder,what herds of daemons hem him in. He can nomore rest ; he says, with the old painter, " By Godit is in me and must go forth of me." He pursuesa beauty, half seen, which flies before him. Thepoet pours out verses in every solitude. Most ofthe things he says are conventional, no doubt ; butby and by he says something which is original andbeautiful. That charms him. He would say noth-ing else but such things. In our way of talkingwe say ' That is yours, this is mine ; ' but the poetknows well that it is not his ; that it is as strangeand beautiful to him as to you ; he would fain hearthe like eloquence at length. Once having tastedthis immortal ichor, he cannot have enough of it,and as an admirable creative power exists in theseintellections, it is of the last importance that thesethings get spoken. What a little of all we know issaid ! What drops of all the sea of our scienceare baled up ! and by what accident it is that theseare exposed, when so many secrets sleep in natureHence the necessity of speech and song ; hence

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 43these throbs and heart-beatings in the orator, atthe door of the assembly, to the end namely thatthought may be ejaculated as Logos, or Word.Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say ' It is in

    me, and shall out.' Stand there, balked and dumb,stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, standand strive, until at last rage draw out of thee thatdream-^ovfQv which every night shows thee is thineown ; a power transcending all limit and privacy,and by virtue of which a man is the conductor ofthe whole river of electricity. Nothing walks, orcreeps, or grows, or exists, which must not in turnarise and walk before him as exjDonent of his mean-ing. Comes he to that power, his genius is nolonger exhaustible. All the creatures by pairs andby tribes pour into his mind as into a Noah's ark,to come forth again to people a new world. Thisis like the stock of air for our respiration or forthe combustion of our fireplace ; not a measure ofgallons, but the entire atmosphere if wanted. Andtherefore the rich poets, as Homer, Chaucer, Shak-speare, and Raphael, have obviously no limits totheir works except the limits of their lifetime, andresemble a mirror carried through the street, readyto render an image of every created thing.O poet ! a new nobility is conferred in grovesand pastures, and not in castles or by the sword-blade any longer. The couditions are hard, but

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    44 THE POET.equal. Thou shalt leave tlie world, and know themuse only. Thou shalt not know any longer thetimes, customs, graces, politics, or opinions of men,but shalt take all from the muse. For the time oftowns is tolled from the world by funereal chimes,but in nature the universal hours are counted bysucceeding tribes of animals and plants, and bygrowth of joy on joy. God wills also that thou ab-dicate a manifold and duplex life, and that thou becontent that others speak for thee. Others shallbe thy gentlemen and shall represent all courtesyand worldly life for thee ; others shall do the greatand resounding actions also. Thou shalt lie closehid with nature, and canst not be afforded to theCapitol or the Exchange. The world is full of re-nunciations and apprenticeships, and this is thine ;thou must pass for a fool and a churl for a longseason. This is the screen and sheath in whichPan has protected his well-beloved flower, and thoushalt be known only to thine own, and they shallconsole thee with tenderest love. And thou shaltnot be able to rehearse the names of thy friends inthy verse, for an old shame before the holy ideal.And this is the reward ; that the ideal shall be realto thee, and the impressions of the actual worldshall fall like summer rain, copious, but not trouble-some to thy inviilnerable essence. Thou shalt havethe whole land for thy park and manor, the sea for

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    THE POET. 45thy bath and navigation, without tax and withoutenvy; the woods and the rivers thou shalt own,and thou shalt possess that wherein others are onlytenants and boarders. Thou true land-lord ! sea-lord ! air - lord ! Wherever snow falls or waterflows or birds fly, wherever day and night meet intwilight, wherever the blue heaven is hung byclouds or sown -y^dth stars, wherever are forms withtransparent boundaries, wherever are outlets intocelestial space, wherever is danger, and awe, andlove, there is Beauty, plenteous as rain, shed forthee, and though thou shouldst walk the world over,thou shalt not be able to find a condition inoppor-tune or iofnoble.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)



    The lords of life, the lords of lifo,I saw them pass,In theu' own guise,Like and unlike,Portly and grim,Use and Surprise,Surface and Dream,Succession swift, and spectral "Wrong,Temperament without a tongue.And the inventor of the gameOmnipresent without name ;Some to see, some to be guessed,They marched from east to westLittle man, least of all.Among the legs of his guardians tall,Walked about with puzzled look :Him by the hand dear Nature tookDearest Nature, strong and kind,Whispered, ' Darling, never mindTo-morrow they will wear another face,The founder thou ! these are thy race !

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)



    "Wheke do we find ourselves ? In a series ofwhich we do not know the extremes, and believethat it has none. We wake and find ourselves ona stair ; there are stairs below us, which we seemto have ascended ; there are stairs above us, manya one, which go upward and out of sight. But theGenius which according to the old belief stands atthe door by which we enter, and gives us the letheto drink, that we may tell no tales, mixed the cuptoo strongly, and we cannot shake off the lethargynow at noonday. Sleep lingers all our lifetimeabout our eyes, as night hovers all day in the boughsof the fir-tree. All things s^dm and glitter. Ourlife is not so much threatened as our perception.Ghostlike we glide through nature, and should notknow our place again. Did our birth fall in somefit of indigence and frugality in nature, that shewas so sparing of her fire and so liberal of her earththat it appears to us that we lack the affirmativeprinciple, and though we have health and reason,

    VOL. HI, 4

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    50 ILLUSION.yet we have no superfluity of spirit for new creation?We have enough to live and bring the year about,but not an ounce to impart or to invest. Ah thatour Genius were a little more of a genius ! We arelike millers on the lower levels of a stream, whenthe fa^ctories above them have exhausted the water.We too fancy that the upper people must have raisedtheir dams.

    If any of us knew what we were doing, or wherewe are going, then when we think we best knowWe do not know to-day whether we are busy or idle.In times when we thought ourselves indolent, wehave afterwards discovered that much was accom-plished and much was begun in us. All our days areso unprofitable while they pass, that 't is wonderfulwhere or when we ever got anything of this whichwe call wisdom, poetry, virtue. We never got iton any dated calendar day. Some heavenly daysmust have been intercalated somewhere, like thosethat Hermes won with dice of the Moon, that Osirismight be born. It is said all martp-doms lookedmean when they were suffered. Every shij^ is aromantic object, except that we sail in. Embark,and the romance quits our vessel and hangs onevery other sail in the horizon. Our life lookstrivial, and we shun to record it. Men seem tohave learned of the horizon the art of perpetual re=treating and reference. ' Yonder uplands are rich

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    EXPEBIENCE. 51pasturage, and my neighbor lias fertile meadow,bat my field,' says the querulous farmer, ' only holdsthe world together.' I quote another man's sayingunluckily that other withdraws himself in the sameway, and quotes me. 'T is the trick of nature thusto degrade to-day ; a good deal of buzz, and some-where a result slipped magically in. Every roof isagreeable to the eye until it is lifted ; then we findtragedy and moaning women and hard-eyed hus-bands and deluges of lethe, and the men ask,*What 's the news ? ' as if the old were so bad.How many individuals can we count in society ? howmany actions ? how many opinions ? So much ofour time is preparation, so much is routine, and somuch retrospect, that the pith of each man's geniuscontracts itself to a very few hours. The historyof literature take the net result of Tiraboschi,Warton, or Schlegel is a sum of very few ideasand of very few original tales ; all the rest beingvariation of these. So in this great society widelying around us, a critical analysis would find veryfew s]3ontaneous actions. It is almost all customand gross sense. There are even few opinions, andthese seem organic in the speakers, and do not dis-turb the universal necessity.What opium is instilled into all disaster ! It

    shows formidable as we approach it, but there is atlast no rough rasping friction, but the most slippery

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    52 ILLUSION.sliding' surfaces ; we fall soft on a thouglit ; AteDea is gentle," Over men's heads walking aloft,

    With tender feet treading so soft."People grieve and bemoan themselves, but it is nothalf so bad with them as they say. There are moodsin which we court suffering, in the hope that hereat least we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edgesof truth. But it turns out to be scene-painting andcounterfeit. The only thing grief has taught me isto know how shallow it is. That, like all the rest,plays about the surface, and never introduces meinto the reality, for contact with which we woiddeven pay the costly price of sons and lovers. Wasit Boscovich who found out that bodies never comein contact ? Well, souls never touch their objects.An innavigable sea washes with silent waves be-tween us and the things we aim at and conversewith. Grief too will make us idealists. In thedeath of my son, now more than two years ago, Iseem to have lost a beautiful estate, no more. Icannot get it nearer to me. If to-morrow I shouldbe informed of the bankruptcy of my principaldebtors, the loss of my property would be a greatinconvenience to me, perhaps, for many years ; butit would leave me as it found me, neither betternor worse. So is it with this calamity ; it does not

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    EXPERIENCE. 68fcoueli me ; something which I fancied was a part ofme, which could not be torn away without tear-ing me nor enlarged without enriching me, falls offfrom me and leaves no scar. It was caducous. Igrieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carryme one step into real nature. The Indian wdio waslaid under a curse that the wind should not blowon him, nor water flow to him, nor fire burn him, isa type of us all. The dearest events are summer-rain, and we the Para coats that shed every drop.Nothing is left us now but death. We look to thatwith a grim satisfaction, saying There at least isreality that will not dodge us.

    I take this evanescence and lubricity of all ob-jects, which lets them slip through our fingers thenwhen we clutch hardest, to be the most unhand-some part of our condition. Nature does not liketo be observed, and likes that we shoidd be herfools and playmates. We may have the sphere forour cricket-ball, but not a berry for our philosophy.Direct strokes she never gave us power to make ;all our blows glance, all our hits are accidents.Our relations to each other are oblique and cas-ual.

    Dream delivers us to dream, and there is no endto illusion. Life is a train of moods like a stringof beads, and as we pass through them they provo

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    54 TEMPERAMENT.to be many-colored lenses wliicli paint the worldtheir own hue, and each shows only what lies in itsfocus. From the mountain you see the mountain.We animate what we can, and we see only whatwe animate. Nature and books belong to the eyesthat see them. It depends on the mood of theman whether he shall see the sunset or the finepoem. There are always sunsets, and there is al-ways genius ; but only a few hours so serene thatwe can relish nature or criticism. The more orless depends on structure or temperament. Tem-perament is the iron wire on which the beads arestrung. Of what use is fortune or talent to a coldand defective nature ? Who cares what sensibilityor discrimination a man has at some time shown, ifhe falls asleep in his chair ? or it he laugh and gig-gle ? or if he apologize ? or is infected with ego-tism ? or thinks of his dollar ? or cannot go by food ?or has gotten a child in his boyhood ? Of whatuse is genius, if the organ is too convex or too con-cave and cannot find a focal distance within theactual horizon of human life ? Of what use, if thebrain is too cold or too hot, and the man does notcare enough for results to stimulate him to experi-ment, and hold him up in it ? or if the web is toofinely woven, too irritable by pleasure and pain, sothat life stagnates from too much reception withoutdue outlet? Of what use to make heroic vows of

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    EXPERIENCE. 55amendment, if the same old law-breaker is to keepthem? What cheer can the religious sentimentyield, when that is suspected to be secretly depend-ent on the seasons of the year and the state of theblood ? I knew a witty physician who found thecreed in the biliary duct, and used to affirm that ifthere was disease in the liver, the man became aCalvinist, and if that organ was sound, he becamea Unitarian. Very mortifying is the reluctant ex-perience that some unfriendly excess or imbecilityneutralizes the promise of genius. We see youngmen who owe us a new world, so readily and lav-ishly they promise, but they never acquit the debtthey die young and dodge the account; or if theylive they lose themselves in the crcwd.Temperament also enters fully into the system

    of illusions and shuts us in a prison of glass whichwe cannot see. There is an optical illusion aboutevery person we meet. In truth they are all crea-tures of given temperament, which will appear in agiven character, whose boundaries they will neverpass ; but we look at them, they seem alive, and wepresume there is impulse in them. In the momentit seems impidse ; in the year, in the lifetime, itturns out to be a certain uniform time which therevolving barrel of the music-box must play. Menresist the conclusion in the morning, but adopt itas the evening wears on, that temper pi-evaUs over

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    66 TEMPERAMENT.everything of time, place, and condition, and is in\dll bankrupt you ifyou have loitered about the old things and have notkept your relation to him by adding to your wealth.New actions are the only apologies and explana-tions of old ones which the noble can bear to offeror to receive. If your friend has displeased you,you shall not sit down to consider it, for he hasalready lost all memory of the passage, and hasdoubled his power to serve you, and ere you canrise up again will burden you with blessings.We have no pleasure in thinking of a benevo-lence that is onlv measured bv its works. Love is

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    102 CHARACTER.inexhaustible, and if its estate is wasted, its gran-ary emptied, still cheers and enriches, and the man,though he sleep, seems to purify the air and hishouse to adorn the landscape and strengthen thelaws. People always recognize this difference. Weknow who is benevolent, by quite other means thanthe amount of subscription to soup-societies. It isonly low merits that can be enumerated. Fear,when your friends say to you what you have donewell, and say it through ; but when they stand withuncertain timid looks of respect and half-dislike,and must suspend their judgment for years to come,you may begin to hope. Those who live to the fu-ture must always appear selfish to those wdio live tothe present. Therefore it was droll in the goodRiemer, who has ^vlitten memoirs of Goethe, tomake out a list of his donations and good deeds, as,so many hundred thalers given to Stilling, to Hegel,to Tischbein ; a lucrative place found for ProfessorVoss, a post under the Grand Duke for Herder,a pension for Meyer, two professors recommendedto foreign universities ; &c., &c. The longest listof specifications of benefit woidd look very short.A man is* a poor creature if he is to be measuredso. For all these of course are exceptions, and therule and hodiernal life of a good man is benefac-tion. The true charity of Goethe is to be inferredfrom the account he gave Dr. Eckermann of the

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    CHARACTER. 103way in which he had spent his fortune. " Eachhon-mot of mine has cost a purse of gold. Half amillion of my own money, the fortune I inherited,my salary and the large income derived from mywritings for fifty years back, have been expendedto instruct me in what I now know. I have besidesseen," &c.

    I own it is but poor chat and gossip to go toenumerate traits of this simple and rapid power,and we are painting the lightning with charcoalbut in these long nights and vacations I like toconsole myself so. Nothing but itself can copy it.A word warm from the heart enriches me. I sur-render at discretion. How death-cold is literarygenius before this fire of life! These are thetouches that reanimate my heavy soul and give iteyes to pierce the dark of nature. I find, whereI thought myself poor, there was I most rich.Thence comes a new intellectual exaltation, to beagain rebuked by some new exhibition of charac-ter. Strange alternation of attraction and repul-sion ! Character repudiates intellect, yet excitesit ; and character passes into thought, is publishedso, and then is ashamed before new flashes of moralworth.

    Character is nature in the highest form. It isof no use to ape it or to contend with it. Some-what is possible of resistance, and of persistence,

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    104 CHARACTER.and of creation, to tliis power, wliicli will foil allemulation.

    This masterpiece is best where no hands but na-ture's have been laid on it. Care is taken that thegreatly-destined shall slip up into life in the shade,with no thousand-eyed Athens to watch and blazonevery new thought, every blushing emotion of younggenius. Two persons lately, very young childrenof the most high God, have given me occasion forthought. When I explored the source of theirsanctity and charm for the imagination, it seemedas if each answered, ' From my nonconformity ; Inever listened to your people's law, or to what theycall their gospel, and wasted my time. I was con-tent with the simple rural poverty of my own;hence this sweetness ; my work never reminds jo\xof that ; is pure of that.' And nature advertisesme in such persons that in democratic America shewiU not be democratized. How cloistered and con-stitutionally sequestered from the market and fromscandal ! It was only this morning that I sentaway some wild flowers of these wood-gods. Theyare a relief from literature, these fresh draughtsfrom the sources of thought and sentiment ; as weread, in an age of polish and criticism, the firstlines of written prose and verse of a nation. Howcaptivating is their devotion to their favorite books,whether ^schylus, Dante, Shakspeare, or Scott,

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    CHARACTER. 105as feeling that they have a stake in that bookwho touciies that, touches them ; and especiallythe total solitude of the critic, the Patmos ofthought from which he writes, in unconsciousnessof any eyes that shall ever read this writing.Could they dream on still, as angels, and not waketo comparisons and to be flattered ! Yet somenatures are too good to be spoiled by praise, andwherever the vein of thought reaches down intothe profound, there is no danger from vanity. Sol-emn friends will w^arn them of the danger of thehead's being turned by the flourish of trumpets,but they can afford to smile. I remember the in-dignation of an eloquent Methodist at the kind ad-monitions of a Doctor of Divinity, 'My friend,a man can neither be praised nor insulted.' Butforgive the counsels ; they are very natural. Iremember the thought which occurred to me whensome ingenious and spiritual foreigners came toAmerica, was. Have you been victimized in beingbrought hither ? or, prior to that, answer me this,* Are you victimizable ?As I have said. Nature keeps these sovereignties

    in her own hands, and however pertly our sermonsand disciplines would divide some share of credit,and teach that the laws fashion the citizen, shegoes her own gait and puts the wisest in the wrongoShe makes very light of gospels and prophets, as

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    106 CHARACTER.one who has a great many more to produce and noexcess of time to spare on any one. There is a classof men, individuals of which appear at long inter-vals, so eminently endowed with insight and virtuethat they have been unanimously saluted as divine^and who seem to be an accumulation of that powerwe consider. Divine persons are character born,or, to borrow a phrase from Napoleon, they arevictory organized. They are usually received withill-will, because they are new and because they seta bound to the exaggeration that has been made ofthe personality of the last divine person. Naturenever rhymes her children, nor makes two menalike. When we see a great man we fancy a re-semblance to some historical person, and predictthe sequel of his character and fortune ; a resultwhich he is sure to disappoint. None will eversolve the problem of his character according to ourprejudice, but only in his own high unprecedentedway. Character wants room ; must not be crowdedon by persons nor be judged from glimpses gotin the press of affairs or on few occasions. Itneeds perspective, as a great building. It may not,probably does not, form relations rapidly; and weshould not require rash explanation, either on thepopular ethics, or on our own, of its action.

    I look on Sculpture as history. I do not thinkthe A-poUo and the Jove impossible in flesh and

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    CHARACTER. 107blood. Every trait which the artist recorded instone he had seen in life, and better than his copjoWe have seen many counterfeits, but we are bornbelievers in great men. How easily we read inold books, when men were few, of the smallestaction of the patriarchs. We require that a manshould be so large and columnar in the landscape,that it should deserve to be recorded that he arose,and girded up his loins, and departed to such aplace. The most credible pictures are those ofmajestic men who prevailed at their entrance, andconvinced the senses ; as happened to the easternmagian who was sent to test the merits of Zertushtor Zoroaster. When the Yunani sage arrived atBalkh, the Persians tell us, Gushtasp appointed aday on which the Mobeds of every country shouldassemble, and a golden chair was placed for theYunani sage. Then the beloved of Yezdam, theprophet Zertusht, advanced into the midst of the as-sembly. The Yunani sage, on seeing that chief, said," This form and this gait cannot lie, and nothing buttruth can proceed from them." Plato said it wasimpossible not to believe in the children of thegods, " though they should speak without probableor necessary arguments." I should think myselfvery unhappy in my associates if I could not creditthe best things in history. " John Bradshaw," saysMilton, " appears like a consul, from whom the

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    108 CHARACTER.fasces are not to depart with the year ; so that noton the tribunal only, but throughout his lire, youwould regard him as sitting in judgment uponkings." I find it more credible, since it is anteriorinformation, that one man should knoio heaven^ asthe Chinese say, than that so many men shouldknow the world. " The virtuous prince confrontsthe gods, without any misgiving. He w^aits a hun-dred ages till a sage comes, and does not doubt.He who confronts the gods, without any misgiving,knows heaven ; he who waits a hundred ages untila sage comes, without doubting, knows men. Hencethe virtuous prince moves, and for ages shows em-pire the way." But there is no need to seek remoteexamples. He is a dull observer whose experiencehas not taught him the reality and force of magic, aswell as of chemistry. The coldest precisian cannotgo abroad without encountering inexplicable influ-ences. One man fastens an eye on him and thegraves of the memory render up their dead; thesecrets that make him wretched either to keep or tobetray must be yielded ; another, and he cannotspeak, and the bones of his body seem to lose theircartilages ; the entrance of a friend adds grace,boldness, and eloquence to him ; and there are per-sons he cannot choose but remember, who gave atranscendent expansion to his thought, and kindledanother life in his bosom.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    CHARACTER. 109Wliat is so excellent as strict relations of amity,

    when they spring from this deep root ? The suf-ficient reply to the skeptic who doubts the powerand the furniture of man, is in that possibility ofjoyful intercourse with persons, which makes thefaith and practice of all reasonable men, I knownothing which life has to offer so satisfying as theprofound good understanding which can subsist,after much exchange of good offices, between twovirtuous men, each of whom is sure of himself andsure of his friend. It is a happiness which post-pones all other gTatifications, and makes politics,and commerce, and churches, cheap. For whenmen shall meet as they ought, each a benefactor, ashower of stars, clothed with thoughts, with deeds,with accomplishments, it should be the festival ofnature which all things announce. Of such friend-ship, love in the sexes is the first symbol, as allother things are symbols of love. Those relationsto the best men, which, at one time, we reckonedthe romances of youth, become, in the progress ofthe character, the most solid enjoyment.

    If it were possible to live in right relationswith men ! if we could abstain from asking any=thing of them, from asking their praise, or help, orpity, and content us with compelling them throughthe virtue of the eldest laws ! Could we not dealwith a few persons, ^\^th one person, after

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    110 CHARACTER.the unwritten statutes, and make an experiment oftheir efficacy ? Could we not pay our friend thecompliment of truth, of silence, of forbearing?Need we be so eager to seek him ? If we are re-lated, we shall meet. It was a tradition of the an-cient world that no metamorphosis could hide agod from a god ; and there is a Greek verse whichruns,

    " The Gods are to each other not unknown."Friends also follow the laws of divine necessitythey gravitate to each other, and cannot other-wise :

    When each the other shall avoid,Shall each by each be most enjoyed.

    Their relation is not made, but allowed. The godsmust seat themselves without seneschal in our Olym-pus, and as they can instal themselves by senioritydivine. Society is spoiled if pains are taken, if theassociates are brought a mile to meet. And if itbe not society, it is a mischievous, low, degradingjangle, though made up of the best. All the great-ness of each is kept back and every foible in pain-ful activity, as if the Olympians should meet to ex-change snuff-boxes.

    Life goes headlong. We chase some flyingscheme, or we are hunted by some fear or com-mand behind us. But if suddenly we encounter a

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    CHARACTER. Illfriend, we pause ; our heat and hurry look foolishenough ; now pause, now possession is required, andthe power to swell the moment from the resourcesof the heart. The moment is all, in all noble rela-tions.A divine person is the prophecy of the mind ; afriend is the hope of the heart. Our beatitudewaits for the fulfilment of these two in one. Theages are opening this moral force. All force is theshadow or symbol of that. Poetry is joyful andstrong as it draws its inspiration thence. Menwrite their names on the world as they are filledwith this. History has been mean ; our nationshave been mobs ; we have never seen a man : thatdivine form we do not yet know, but only the dreamand prophecy of such : we do not know the majesticmanners which belong to him, which appease andexalt the beholder. We shall one day see that themost private is the most public energy, that qualityatones for quantity, and grandeur of character actsin the dark, and succors them who never saw it.What greatness has yet appeared is beginnings andencouragements to us in this direction. The historyof those gods and saints which the world has writ-ten and then worshipped, are documents of charac-ter. The ages have exulted in the manners of ayouth who owed nothing to fortune, and who washanged at the Tyburn of his nation, who, by the

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    112 CHARACTER.pure quality of his nature, shed an epic splendoiaround the facts of his death which has transfiguredevery particular into an universal s}Tnbol for theeyes of mankind. This great defeat is hitherto oui^highest fact. But the mind requires a victory tothe senses ; a force of character which will convertjudge, jury, soldier, and king ; which will rule ani=mal and mineral virtues, and blend with the coursesof sap, of rivers, of winds, of stars, and of moralagents.

    If we cannot attain at a bound to these gran-deurs, at least let us do them homage. In society,high advantages are set down to the possessor asdisadvantages. It requires the more wariness inour private estimates. I do not forgive in myfriends the failure to know a fine character and toentertain it with thankful hospitality. When atlast that which we have always longed for is arrivedand shines on us ^vith glad rays out of that far ce-lestial land, then to be coarse, then to be criticaland treat such a visitant with the jabber and sus-picion of the streets, argues a vulgarity that seemsto shut the doors of heaven. This is confusion, thisthe right insanity, when the soul no longer knowsits own, nor where its allegiance, its religion, aredue. Is there any religion but this, to know thatwherever in the wide desert of being the holy senti=ment we cherish has opened into a flower, it blooms

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    CHARACTER. 113for me ? if none sees it, I see it ; I am aware, if Ialone, of the greatness of the fact. Whilst it blooms,I will keep sabbath or holy time, and suspend mygloom and my folly and jokes. Nature is indulgedby the presence of this guest. There are manyeyes that can detect and honor the prudent andhousehold virtues ; there are many that can discernGenius on his starry track, though the mob is in-capable ; but when that love which is all-suffering,all-abstaining, all-aspiring, which has vowed to it-self that it will be a wretch and also a fool in thisworld sooner than soil its white hands by any com-pliances, comes into our streets and houses, onlythe pure and aspiring can know its face, and theonly compliment they can pay it is to own it.

    VOL. m. 8

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)



    " How near to good is what is fair fWhich we no sooner see,But with the lines and outward airOur senses taken be.

    Again yourselves compose,And now put all the aptness onOf Figure, that ProportionOr Color can disclose ;

    That if those silent arts were lost,Design and Picture, they might boastFrom you a newer ground.

    Instructed by the heightening senseOf dignity and reverence

    In their true motions found."Ben Jonson.

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)



    Half tlie world, it is said, knows not how theother haK live. Our Exploring Expedition sawthe Feejee islanders getting their dinner off humanbones; and they are said to eat their own wivesand children. The husbandry of the modern in-habitants of Gournou (west of old Thebes) isphilosophical to a fault. To set up their house-keeping nothing is requisite but two or threeearthen pots, a stone to grind meal, and a matwhich is the bed. The house, namely a tomb, isready without rent or taxes. No rain can passthrough the roof, and there is no door, for there isno want of one, as there is nothing to lose. If thehouse do not please them, they walk out and enteranother, as there are several hundreds at theircommand. "It is somewhat singidar," adds Bel-zoni, to whom we owe this account, " to talk ofhappiness among people who live in sepulchres,among the corpses and rags of an ancient nationwhich they know nothing of." In the deserts of

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    118 MANNERS.Borgoo the rock-Tibboos still dwell in caves, likecliff-swallows, and the language of these negroes iscompared by their neighbors to the shrieking ofbats and to the whistling of birds. Again, the Bor-noos have no proper names ; individuals are calledafter their height, thickness, or other accidentalquality, and have nicknames merely. But the salt,the dates, the ivory, and the gold, for which thesehorrible regions are visited, find their way intocountries where the purchaser and consumer canhardly be ranked in one race with these cannibalsand man-stealers : countries where man serves him-self with metals, wood, stone, glass, giun, cotton,silk, and wool ; honors himself with architecturewrites laws, and contrives to execute his willthrough the hands of many nations; and, espe-cially, establishes a select society, running throughall the countries of intelligent men, a seK-consti-tuted aristocracy, or fraternity of the best, which,without written law or exact usage of any kind,perpetuates itself, colonizes every new-planted isl-and and adopts and makes its own whatever per-sonal beauty or extraordinary native endowonentanywhere appears.What fact more conspicuous in modern history

    than the creation of the gentleman ? Chivalry isthat, and loyalty is that, and, in English literaturehalf the drama, and all the novels, from Sir Philip

  • 7/28/2019 Emerson Complete, VOL 3 Lectures & Essays II - Ralph Waldo Emerson (1893)


    MANNERS. 119Sidney to Sir Walter Scott, paint this figure. Theword gentleman^ which, like the word Christian,must hereafter characterize the present and the fewpreceding centuries by the importance attached toit, is a homage to personal and incommunicableproperties. Frivolous and fantastic additions havegot associated with the name, but the steady inte