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Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882). The Complete Works. 1904.
Vol. I. Nature, Addresses and Lectures

Biographical Sketch

IF there be power in good intention, in fidelity and in toil, the North wind shall be purer, the stars in heaven shall glow with a kindlier beam, that I have lived. I am primarily engaged to myself to be a public servant of all the gods, to demonstrate to all men that there is intelligence and good will at the heart of things, and ever higher and yet higher leadings. These are my engagements; how can your law further or hinder me in what I shall do to men?… Wherever there are men, are the objects of my study and love. Sooner or later all men will be my friends and will testify in all methods the energy of their regards.

Such is the hero’s attitude in facing life, Emerson said, in one of his early lectures. After his death, forty years later, his friend Dr. Holmes in writing of him said, “Consciously or unconsciously men describe themselves in the characters they draw. One must have the mordant in his own personality or he will not take the color of his subject,” and the Doctor goes on to show how well the test applies to his prose, and especially to his verse. And as for the North wind and the stars, Emerson held their bracing and uplifting influence dependent on the preparation of the soul:—

  • Light-loving, asking, life in me
  • Feeds those eternal lamps I see.
  • His spiritual autobiography might be given almost in its completeness in impersonal extracts, duly ordered, from his prose and verse. There, as he said of Shakspeare, “in place of meagre fact we have really the information which is material: that which describes character and fortune, that which, if we were about to meet the man and deal with him, would most import us to know. We have his recorded convictions on those questions which knock for answer at every heart—on life and death, on love, on wealth and poverty, on the prizes of life and the ways whereby we come at them; on the characters of men and the influences, occult and open, which affect their fortunes; and on those mysterious and demoniacal powers which defy our science and which yet interweave their malice and their gift in our brightest hours.” In his journal for 1841 Mr. Emerson wrote, “Seemed to me that I had the keeping of a secret too great to be confided to one man: that a divine man dwelt near me in a hollow tree.” And again, “All that is said of the wise man by Stoic or Oriental or Modern essayist, describes to each reader his own idea, describes his unattained but attainable self;… he hears the commendation, not of himself, but, more sweet, of that character he seeks, in every word that is said concerning character, yea further, in every fact and circumstance—in the running river and the rustling corn.” This purified man,—he named him Osman,—an organ of the Universal Spirit, yet with his own temperament and subject to his experiences, often appears in the Journals:—

    1841. “When I wish, it is permitted me to say, These hands, this body, this history of Waldo Emerson are profane and wearisome, but I, I descend not to mix myself with that or with any man. Above his life, above all creatures, I flow down forever a sea of benefit into races of individuals. Nor can the stream ever roll backward or the sin or death of a man taint the immutable energy which distributes itself into men, as the sun into rays, or the sea into drops.”

    In the notes to this edition of Emerson’s Works, the correspondence between the passages and his own traits and experiences will be often shown. But a sketch of his personal history must here be briefly given.

    He was born in Boston, May 25, 1803, the son of William Emerson, pastor of the Second Church, and Ruth Haskins, his wife. His father, son of the patriotic young minister of Concord at the outbreak of the Revolution, was a preacher, liberal for his day, social and a man of letters; his mother, a lady of serene sweetness and courage.

    She was left a widow in 1811 with her family of five little boys, and helped by kind friends, brought them up in straitened circumstances, wisely and well. The Emerson ancestry, almost all ministers, after Thomas, who came to Ipswich in 1638, were men who, living frugally and prayerfully in the clearings of wild New England, had striven to keep before the minds of their people

  • “The invisible things of God, before things seen and known.”
  • They were humble and earnest scholars. Mr. Emerson told that, in his childhood, “Dr. Frothingham one day found me in his parlor, and coming close and looking at the form of my head, said, ‘If you are good, it is no thanks to you.’” These Emerson boys, “born to be educated,” as their Aunt Mary Emerson, the strange sibyl and inspirer of their youth, said of them, helped the matter on by their eager reading, especially of poetry, their ventures in writing, and declamation to one another of fine passages in which they delighted. There were almost no children’s books then, and they soon were versed in the best authors. Mr. Emerson, in the essay “Domestic Life” in the volume Society and Solitude, gives a touching and true picture of the life of these brothers in their childhood, and speaking of their air castles says, “Woe to them if their wishes were crowned. The angels that dwell with them and are weaving laurels of life for their youthful brows are Toil and Want, Truth and Mutual Faith.”

    Rev. Ezra Ripley, the successor of their grandfather in the church of Concord, and married to his widow, welcomed the boys to the Old Manse in the holidays. So, long before he settled there, Mr. Emerson had loving memories of Concord woods and meadows.

    Emerson entered Harvard College at the age of fourteen; he graduated with his class in 1821. Like a great part of the students of his day, he helped himself through his course by various services, either to the college or by teaching. Though his instincts drove him much to solitude, he found enjoyment too in the social life of the small classes of his day, and was a member of the Pythologian, a convivio-literary club for which he furnished the songs. Alluding to himself in his Journal, he writes of “the youth who has no faculty for mathematics and weeps over the impossible analytical geometry, to console his defeats with Chaucer and Montaigne, with Plutarch and Plato at night.” These were to him the living professors, and became his friends for life. He loved Latin and Greek—not for their syntax—and every paragraph of his English shows the value of these now neglected studies: the Elizabethan authors too, and the ancient philosophers, though the modern metaphysicians did not interest him. He was only in the upper half of his class, yet he won prizes for declamation and dissertations. “Even in college I was already content to be ‘screwed’ in the recitation room if on my return I could accurately paint the fact in my journal.”

    From boyhood to old age he kept a journal, not of events, but wherein to note the thoughts that were given him, his trials at versifying, a quotation that charmed, or an anecdote that pleased him. In an early lecture, and often through life, he gave to scholars these two maxims, 1. “Sit alone: in your arrangements for residence see you have a chamber to yourself, though you sell your coat and wear a blanket. 2. Keep a journal: pay so much honor to the visits of Truth to your mind as to record them.”

    In the Journal for 1837 he wrote: “This book is my savings-bank. I grow richer because I have somewhere to deposit my earnings, and fractions are worth more to me because corresponding fractions are waiting here that shall be made integers by their addition.”

    Neglecting the college text-books and incurring admonition for so doing, he joyfully pastured in the library, not reading serially or thoroughly, but with the sure instinct for what was for him in a book,—“reading for lustres,” as he called it. Looking backward, he said, “I will trust instincts … I was the true philosopher in college, and Mr. Farrar and Mr. Hedge and Dr. Ware the false. Yet what seemed then to me less probable?”

    Four of the Emerson boys went through college, and each had by teaching to help the others; the younger ones, when their turn to work came, in some measure freeing the elder brothers to pursue their education for the ministry. Ralph, at the age of nineteen, assisted William, the eldest and the prop of the family, in his “finishing school” for the first young ladies of Boston. Later, he taught the school alone, a sore trial for a bashful boy. The relief when he got away from these daunting fair ones to his rural home found expression in “Good-bye, Proud World.” He taught later in Brookline, Cambridge and Chelmsford, and began his studies at the Divinity School.

    The health of the young teacher suffered from too ascetic a life, and unmistakable danger-signals began to appear, fortunately heeded in time. Disappointment and delay resulted, borne, however, with sense and courage. A certain serene acceptance of physical and temperamental limitations came even at that early age into play and saved his life, balancing the drivings of conscience or ambition which cost his two brilliant younger brothers their lives, and made William, the brave and faithful bearer of the family burdens, a sufferer through most of his life.

    William studied for the ministry at Göttingen, but the same honest doubts which later came to his brother turned him aside to the Law, and the hereditary mantle fell on Waldo’s shoulders. Weak lungs and eyes interrupted his studies; nevertheless, in October, 1826, he was “approbated to preach” by the Middlesex Association of Ministers. A winter at the North at this time threatened to prove fatal, so, helped by his generous kinsman, Rev. Samuel Ripley, he sailed for Charleston and thence to Florida, where he passed the winter with benefit at St. Augustine. In the spring he worked northward, preaching in the cities through which he passed, and later near home, as opportunity offered, while pursuing his studies.

    In 1829 Mr. Emerson was ordained in the Second or Old North Church in Boston as associate pastor with Rev. Henry Ware, and soon after, because of his senior’s delicate health, was called on to assume the full duty. In this year he also was chosen chaplain of the Senate. The young minister entered earnestly upon his duties, although, quoting the words of one of the Fathers of the Church, he called it Onus angelicis humeris formidandum. Theological dogmas, even such as the Unitarians of Channing’s day accepted, did not appeal to Emerson, nor did the supernatural in religion, in its ordinary acceptation, interest him. The living God, the solicitations of the Spirit, the daily miracle of the universe, the secure compensations, the dignity of man, were what he taught, and, though the older members of the congregation may have been disquieted that he did not dwell upon revealed religion or the offices of the Christ, his words reached the young people, stirred thought, and wakened aspiration.

    Because of his shyness the pastoral visits to his parishioners were less easy for him than helping them by his thought. At this time he lived with his young wife, Ellen Tucker, and his mother, in Chardon Street. For nearly four years he ministered to his people in Boston, then his expanding spirit found itself cramped by custom and tradition even in the most liberal church of his day. Though endeavoring to conform to blameless usage, he presently felt it his duty to tell his congregation that he could not regard the rite of the Lord’s Supper as a sacrament established by Christ for observance through the ages, and proposed to them a merely commemorative service without the elements. This change was not adopted, and the question whether he ought to resign his charge came to him. To decide this he went for solitary thought to the White Mountains. The temptation not to sacrifice, on a matter of form, a position of usefulness for which he had been trained, and in which he was happy and valued, was great, but he put it behind him and bravely offered his resignation. He and his people parted in all friendship, many desiring that he should remain on his own terms. The use of prayer at stated times, whether the spirit moved or not, had been distressing to Mr. Emerson, and thereafter he always declined engagements where this was required. In his farewell to his church he spoke of himself as still “engaged to the love and service of the same eternal cause…. To me, as one disciple, is the ministry of truth, as far as I can discern and declare it, committed.”

    This was the darkest time in Mr. Emerson’s life. His wife, a beautiful and spiritual woman, had died. His noble brother Edward had broken down from overwork, and gone to Porto Rico, where, after three years’ exile for health, he died. He himself was sick and sad. On Christmas Day, 1832, he sailed for the Mediterranean to recover as he might.

    He landed in Malta and went thence to Sicily and Naples. The sea always helped him, and, though never a sight-seer and constantly urged homeward by his spirit to begin the new life, he found useful diversion in these old-world sights. As the philosophy and poetry of ancient Greeks always spoke to him, so now in Italy, seeing their sculptured deities and heroes and the contrast between these faces and those of the living throng around, he said, “These are the countenances of the first-born, the face of man in the morning of the world.” The Elgin marbles, seen later in London, he always remembered with delight. Sculpture seemed nobler to him than painting, and, though greatly moved by Raphael’s Transfiguration, the work of Michel Angelo—St. Peter’s, his statues, and the sculpture-painting in the Sistine Chapel—was the principal gift that Rome had for him. The engravings of the Sibyls and a copy of the Fates thereafter adorned his study walls. He tarried in Florence and enjoyed acquaintance with Landor. There, he tells us, he did homage at the tomb of Galileo. But he quickly sped northward, over the Alps, made but short stay in Paris, crossed the Channel, and in the lonely moorlands of the Scottish Border sought out the man, then hardly recognized in England, whose writings had stirred him at home, and who drew him thither like a magnet. There began the friendship of Emerson and Carlyle, a blessing to both, and lasting through life.

    “That man,” wrote Carlyle to a friend, “came to see me. I don’t know what brought him, and we kept him one night, and then he left us. I saw him go up the hill. I did n’t go with him to see him descend. I preferred to watch him mount and vanish like an angel!”

    On September 1, 1833, Emerson, in his journal at Liverpool, thanks God “that He has brought me to the shore and the ship that steers westward. He has shown me the men I wished to see, Landor, Coleridge, Carlyle, Wordsworth: He has thereby comforted and confirmed me in my convictions…. I am very glad my travelling is done.” His health was restored, and he was eager to begin life anew. For the thought which he expressed in “The Over-Soul” was then burning within him,—“When we have broken our god of tradition and ceased from our god of rhetoric, then may God fire the soul.” In his journal at sea he wrote, “That which I cannot yet declare has been my angel from childhood until now. It has separated me from men. It has watered my pillow…. It has inspired me with hope. It cannot be defeated by my defeats…. It is the ‘open secret’ of the Universe…. I believe in this life. I believe it continues. As long as I am here, I plainly read my duties as writ with pencil of fire. They speak not of death; they are woven of immortal thread.”

    Thus he landed at Boston within the year in good health and hope, and joined his mother and youngest brother Charles in Newton. Frequent invitations to preach still came, and were accepted, and he even was sounded as to succeeding Dr. Dewey in the church at New Bedford; but, as he stipulated for freedom from ceremonial, this came to nothing. In his visits to New Bedford the Friends, with their doctrine of Obedience, interested him.

    In the autumn of 1834 he moved to Concord, living with his kinsman, Dr. Ripley, at the Manse, but soon bought house and land on the Boston Road, on the edge of the village towards Walden woods. Thither, in the following autumn, he brought his wife, Miss Lidian Jackson, of Plymouth, and this was their home during the rest of their lives.

    The new life to which he had been called opened pleasantly and increased in happiness and opportunity, except for the sadness of bereavements, for, in the first few years, his brilliant brothers Edward and Charles died, and soon afterward Waldo, his first-born son, and later his mother. Emerson had left traditional religion, the city, the Old World, behind, and now went to Nature as his teacher, his inspiration. His first book, Nature, which he was meditating while in Europe, was finished here, and published in 1836. When, as a boy, he went with William to the Maine woods, he wrote to his Aunt Mary that he found enjoyment there, but not inspiration. “You should have gone alone,” the sibyl answered. And now he went to the woods near his door to find her word true. As God liveth, he said,—

  • The word unto the prophet spoken
  • Was writ on tablets still unbroken,
  • Still floats upon the morning wind,
  • Still whispers to the willing mind.
  • From this time on, to the last days of his life, except when on his lecturing trips, he went almost daily to the woods to listen for the thoughts, not originated by him, he held, though colored by the temperament of the individual through which these inspirations of the Universal Mind passed.

  • Oh what are heroes, prophets, men
  • But pipes through which the breath of Pan doth blow
  • A momentary music?
  • The singing of the pine-tree, or the Æolian harp, passive to be played on by the wild wind, his favorite music, symbolized his belief.

    One song of the pine-tree to him was of

  • The genesis of things,
  • Of tendency through endless ages,
  • Of star-dust and star-pilgrimages,
  • The rushing metamorphosis.
  • And in 1836, in Nature, he told how—
  • Striving to be man, the worm
  • Mounts through countless spires of form.
  • The early recognition by Emerson of Evolution as the plan of the Universe in his first book, and everywhere in his prose and verse, has often attracted notice, first, I think, of Mr. Moncure D. Conway in his Emerson at Home and Abroad.

    A question so interesting should be considered here—necessarily briefly. A study of Mr. Emerson’s history and reading suggests these steps as those by which his beliefs were reached.

    1. His open mind and hopeful temperament.

    2. His poetic nature looked on beneficent law as universal, working alike on matter or spirit; hence analogies could be read either way from one to the other.

    3. The facts of Astronomy and the Nebular-hypothesis early delighted him.

    4. The poetic teachings of the ancient philosophers, especially “The Flowing of the Universe” by Heracleitus and the “Identity” by Xenophanes and others, prepared his mind.

    5. He had undoubtedly early read of Leibnitz’s scale of being from minerals through plants to animals, from monad to man, and from Coleridge knew something of the speculations of Schelling and Oken.

    He also, in 1830, read with interest Lee’s Life of Cuvier, and probably in Buffon.

    6. He recorded in his Journal and in his lecture before the Natural History Society, just after his return from Europe in 1833, the strange feelings of relationship that had been stirred in him by the sight of the animal forms graded from lowest to highest in the Jardin des Plantes Museum in Paris “and the upheaving principle of life everywhere incipient, in the very rock aping organized forms…. I am impressed with the singular conviction that not a form so grotesque, so savage, or so beautiful but is an expression of something in man, the observer. We feel that there is an occult relation between the very worm, the crawling scorpion and man. I am moved to strange sympathies. I say, I will listen to this invitation. I will be a Naturalist.”

    In December, 1833, in his lecture “The Relation of Man to the Globe,” he spoke of the recent discovery of a fact the “most sublime,” that man is no upstart in Creation, but has been prophesied in Nature for a thousand thousand ages before he appeared; that from times incalculably remote there has been a progressive preparation for him, an effort (as physiologists say) to produce him.

    7. In 1835 Lyell’s book on Geology came out and was read by Emerson, in which the ideas of Lamarck, first announced in 1800, were mentioned. Mr. Emerson probably came on them there. These doctrines of Variation in animals through environment and “effort,” and the transmission of these peculiarities, were at first ridiculed or neglected, but are now recognized as equally necessary in Evolution with Darwin’s Natural Selection. Darwin’s Origin of Species was not published until 1859.

    In 1836, in a lecture given in Boston on “The Humanity of Science,” Mr. Emerson alluded to Lamarck as “finding a monad of organic life common to every animal, and becoming a worm, a mastiff or a man, according to circumstances. He says to the caterpillar, How dost thou, brother? Please God you shall yet be a philosopher.”

    Lastly. In his Essay “Poetry and Imagination,” made up from lectures, some of which were given early, Mr. Emerson credits John Hunter with “the electric word arrested and progressive development, indicating the way upward from the invisible protoplasm to the highest organism which gave the poetic key to Natural Science.”

    Mr. Conway after long search found interesting evolutionary ideas only in a note to Palmers’ edition of Hunter’s works, but not this phrase.

    Mr. Emerson, in some notes on the sketch of John Hunter in the Biographie Générale (Paris, 1858), speaks of these words as found by Richard Owen in Hunter’s Manuscripts, and in 1866 wrote in his Journal:—

    “The idea which haunted John Hunter, that life was independent of organization protecting and re-creating the parts and varying its means of action, he never succeeded in expressing but in his museum.” Possibly Owen himself said this to Emerson, as the word progressive does not appear in the Biographie Générale notice.

    From books, and from men, alike in the laboratory, the counting-room, on the farm, he eagerly collected his material—“dull, despised facts” which he found were “pearls and rubies to his discourse.” “They do not know what to do with their facts. I know;” for behind each was a law of spirit as well as of matter, in however humble guise. The great significance of Evolution was its warrant with him. After leaving his church he found that “the man of to-day scarcely recognizes the man of yesterday,” yet the high aim in both was the same—“as the shellfish crawls out of its beautiful but stony cave because it no longer admits of its growth.” Now he spoke on week days to hearers, who did not come from custom, on the same high themes, but in freer language and with richer illustration, and found ready acceptance from the young in years or spirit. Those who shared the general social, intellectual, and spiritual awakening that came from various causes to New England at that time, were called Transcendentalists. “I told Mr. M——,” said Mr. Emerson, “that he need not consult the Germans, but if he wished at any time to know what the Transcendentalists believed, he might simply omit what in his own mind he added [to his simple perception] from the tradition, and the rest would be Transcendentalism.”

    In 1837 Mr. Emerson made his notable address, “The American Scholar,” to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge. It was well received and advanced his repute as a thinker and writer. But the next year, when, invited by the graduating class at the Divinity School, he made up his mind to tell them bravely that they could well spare tradition, and the soul might regard any mediation between itself and the living God as impertinent, he had the old conditions to deal with,—the presence, alert for heresy, of men pledged and committed to the tradition. These pained or outraged guardians of the flock remonstrated, or fiercely disclaimed complicity in this occurrence.

  • The stern old war-gods shook their heads,
  • The seraphs frowned from myrtle beds;
  • Seemed to the holy festival
  • The rash word boded ill to all.
  • Mr. Emerson declined to argue his case. The thought given to his earnest prayer he had delivered, and he withdrew, leaving it to do its work. “As like a sunbeam he glided into the conclave, so like a sunbeam he glided out.” Returning to his woodlands to contemplate the daily miracle of Nature, he said with St. Augustine, Wrangle who will, I will work. His poem ‘Uriel,” if carefully read, will be seen to be an exact but sublimed account of this experience. Uriel, archangel of the sun, was chosen as one who from a central position sees all things in their ordered courses, where those in eccentric positions see perturbations. Yet Emerson did not lack defenders who then could see that he was no Atheist,—denied personality to God “because it was too little, not too much.” As for the Pantheism of his “Universal Mind,” their Bibles told of “Him in whom we live and move and have our being.” Mr. Emerson was more troubled by the notoriety involved than by the attacks. Yet his Journal at this time shows that he thought his heresies might cut off his source of earning by lectures, and felt that he must become a more skilful gardener and rely on his planting. He mentions the discovery that “if you put one potato in the ground you found ten, the true miracle of the loaves and fishes.”

    For thirty years thereafter the official doors of Harvard College were shut to him. But the tempest was, as he said, “in a wash bowl,” and the country colleges still bade him to speak to them, a service in which he always expressed delight,—the showing them that “the Scholar had drawn the white lot in life,” and that his responsibility was proportionate. At this time he prepared his two volumes of Essays.

    Although he had few close friendships and said that he had not animal spirits enough even for near friends, he was always surrounded by friends known and unknown. He was fortunate in having two noble women close by him, Miss Hoar, the betrothed of his brother Charles, and Mrs. Samuel Ripley, the wife of his uncle, a woman of eager interest in all that was good. Her brother, Mr. Bradford, a gentle scholar, was a near friend, and Mr. Emerson took great delight in the manly sincerity and knowledge of Nature of Henry Thoreau, who for some years was a member of his household. He sometimes met the shy and interesting Hawthorne, his neighbor, and soon Mr. Alcott came also to Concord. Of him he said, “The ideal world I might have treated as cloud-land, had I not known Alcott, who is a native of that country and makes it as solid as Massachusetts for me.”

    Mr. Emerson’s wide hospitality, to the souls as well as bodies of men, brought to his door many visitors, inspiring or exacting, inspired or possessed. His habit of imputing virtue, or of “taking people by their best, handles,” brought out their best, but some were hopeless “monotones,” of one of whom he said: ‘He will not listen in company which is much, but, what is worse, when he is alone.” He writes:—

    “When the narrow-minded and unworthy shall knock at my gate, I will say come, now will I sacrifice to the gods below; then will I entertain my guests heartily and handsomely. Besides, is it for thee to choose what shadows shall pass over thy magical mirror?”

    Of one he made this humorous parable: “As for walking with Heraclitus,” said Theanor, “I know nothing less interesting. I had as lief talk with my own conscience.” He often had Swedenborg’s statement in mind: “Angels have no idea of time.” One of his nearest friends, still living, has lately published anonymously some of Emerson’s letters to him showing his ideals of friendship.

    The Lyceum was Emerson’s open pulpit. His main occupation through life was reading lectures to who would hear, at first in courses in Boston, but later all over the country, for the Lyceum sprang up in New England in these years in every town, and spread westward to the new settlements even beyond the Mississippi. His winters were spent in these rough, but to him interesting journeys, for he loved to watch the growth of the Republic, in which he had faith. His summers were spent in study and writing. The thoughts gathering in his journals presently found their affinities, one with another, and suggested the theme for the next course of lectures. Tested by this trial-trip, the joints looked after (but not too closely, for it was important that the spark should pass in the mind of the hearer), the roughnesses smoothed, and with every superfluous passage or word cut away, the best in the lectures appeared later as the Essays, of which seven volumes of different names appeared between 1841 and 1876. The courses in Boston, which at first were given in the Masonic Temple, were always well attended by earnest and thoughtful people. The young, whether in years or in spirit, were always and to the end his audience of the spoken or written word. The freedom of the Lyceum Platform Pleased Emerson. He found that people would hear on Wednesday with approval and unsuspectingly doctrines from which on Sunday they felt officially obliged to dissent.

    Mr. Lowell, in his essays, has spoken of these early lectures and what they were worth to him and others suffering from the generous discontent of youth with things as they were. Emerson used to say, “My strength and my doom is to be solitary”; but to a retired scholar a wholesome offset to this seclusion was the travelling and lecturing in cities and in raw frontier towns, bringing him into touch with the people, and this he knew and valued. He was everywhere a learner, expecting light from the youngest and least educated companion.

    From the first he never “came down to his audience.” He had faith in the intelligence and ideals of Americans, and his lectures were well received, and called for again. The astonished curiosity about American audiences for such thoughts as his, expressed by both Carlyle and Sterling in their letters to him, is amusing. Herman Grimm says that Emerson preferred not to speak to those who read or had read, but to those that had ears to hear, and that he resembled Shakspeare in that he can be read without preparation.

    In 1847 Emerson was invited to read lectures in England, and he went thither and remained abroad a year, seeing old friends and new. English Traits was the result. At that time he made also a short visit to France in her troublous times.

    In writing to John Sterling in 1840, in acknowledgment of his volume of poems, Mr. Emerson had expressed his faith, founded on his ardent wish, “that one day—I ask not where or when—I shall attain to the speech of this splendid dialect;… and these wishes, I suppose, are ever only the buds of power, but up to this hour I have never had a true success in such attempts.”

    From boyhood he had written verses, at first correct in metre and stilted in expression, on eighteenth-century models; but in the ten years preceding his visit to England his verse had shown the influence of his growth; indeed the thoughts in all the essays had been cast in poetic mould, many of them showing the influence of the Bardic poems, the thought roughly cast at white heat. Many of his poems first appeared in the Dial. The Poems were published in 1846. May-Day, a second collection, more mellowed and finished, followed in 1867. Both are now included in one volume, in which the history of some of the poems will be given in the notes. Emerson was primarily a poet, whether in prose or rhyme, though he struggled long to attain rhythmical expression. He said, “I like my poems best because it is not I who write them.” He consoled himself for not having a musical ear in having “musical eyes.” He said, “Good poetry must be affirmative. Thus saith the Lord should begin the song.”

    The reforms of the day were honored and helped by Emerson, but he would not “mistake others’ chivalries for his own.” He said: “My reforms include theirs”; and again, “I have quite other slaves to free than those negroes, to wit, imprisoned spirits, imprisoned thoughts.” But in times of doubt and danger he failed not to bring his lance to help as a brave volunteer. Early and always he spoke out for human freedom. In his ode at the celebration of the Fourth of July in 1856 were the lines as he would write them again to-day—

  • United States! the ages plead,—
  • Present and Past, in under-song,
  • Go put your creed into your deed,
  • Nor speak with double tongue.
  • For sea and land don’t understand,
  • Nor skies without a frown
  • See rights for which the one hand fights
  • By the other cloven down.

  • As he was a good citizen of his village and a patriotic American, so he was a happy and trusting soul in the Universe, seeing everywhere, in Protean forms, the inseparable Trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

    Mr. Emerson tells us that as a boy he pleased himself as he lay on his bed with the beauty of the Lord’s equilibrium in the Universe, instead of shuddering at the terrors of his judgment,—that all was so intelligible and sweet, instead of inscrutable and dire.

    Secure and happy in his assurance of the law of compensation, though in his manhood he fell on evil times, when even in Boston free thought, free speech, free action were unpopular to the verge of danger, Unitarian and Transcendental heresies scourged or ridiculed and the cause of human freedom, in the hands of a despised few, seemed almost hopeless, he lived to see these causes everywhere winning, and their champions honored. Mr. John Albee in his Remembrances of Emerson said: “I am impressed with the fact that he never made any mistakes throughout his career. He faced one way and continued to face that way. He never had to recant, to make a new start, to modify, or apologize.” He said in his early manhood, “If the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the huge world will come round to him.”

    The year after the end of the Civil War, in the triumph of freedom, Mr. Emerson was again invited to give the Phi Beta Kappa address at Harvard, and was shortly after chosen a member of the Board of Overseers. In 1870 and 1871 he delivered a course of lectures on Philosophy there, but the undertaking was too much for his strength, which had begun to fail. A friend carried him with a pleasure party to California for rest and recreation. Professor James B. Thayer, a member of the party, wrote the story of that trip. But Mr. Emerson’s forces had failed more than was then realized, and the next year the exposure and fatigue incident to the accidental burning of his house prostrated him seriously. Loyal friends took upon themselves the gracious task of restoring his house completely, and meanwhile sent him to the Old World to recruit his forces. A winter with his daughter in Italy and on the Nile helped, but could not restore him. On his return he found himself unable to prepare a promised book of essays (Letters and Social Aims). This task was cheerfully accomplished by his trusted and valued friend, the late Mr. James Elliot Cabot, who afterward, at the desire of the family, wrote the admirable Memoir of Emerson, and in 1883 prepared the posthumous edition of the Works.

    Mr. Emerson, unable to do active literary work, lived a quiet and happy life among his friends and his books, still going often to hear the song of the pines by Walden, until the last days of April, 1882, when he died of pneumonia after a short illness.

    His life, brave, serene and happy, was in exact accord with his words:—

  • The sun set, but set not his hope;
  • Stars rose, his faith was earlier up.

  • E. W. E.