The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.
§ 7. Emersons Optimism
A third trip to Europe was made in 1872, when his central will was already loosening and his faculties were losing their edge. It was at this time that Charles Eliot Norton talked with Carlyle, and heard the old man, eight years older than Emerson, expatiate on the fundamental difference in their tempers. And on the voyage home in the same boat, Norton, who so fully represents the judgment of New England, had much conversation with Emerson, and recorded his opinion in words that, whether welcome or not, should not be forgotten:
For some time there had been a gradual relaxation of Emerson’s hold on life. Though always an approachable man and fond of conversation, there was in him a certain lack of human warmth, of “bottom,” to use his own word, which he recognized and deplored. Commenting in his Journal (24 May, 1864) on the burial of Hawthorne, he notes the statement of James Freeman Clarke that the novelist had “shown a sympathy with the crime in our nature,” and adds: “I thought there was a tragic element in the event, that might be more fully rendered,—in the painful solitude of the man, which, I suppose, could not longer be endured, and he died of it.” A touch of this romantic isolation, though never morose or “painful,” there was in himself, a failure to knit himself strongly into the bonds of society. “I have felt sure of him,” he says of Hawthorne in the same passage, “in his neighbourhood, and in his necessities of sympathy and intelligence,—that I could well wait his time,—his unwillingness and caprice,—and might one day conquer a friendship.… Now it appears that I waited too long.” Eighteen years later, standing by the body of Longfellow, he was heard to say: “That gentleman was a sweet, beautiful soul, but I have entirely forgotten his name.” Such forgetfulness, like a serene and hazy cloud, hovered over Emerson’s brain in his closing years. A month afterwards, on 27 April, 1882, he himself faded away peacefully.