Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

difficulties. This was a terrible result of my only instance of want of consideration. Besides my own remorse, which was sufficient torment, I was severely reprimanded by the coroner for my want of natural feeling, and mentioned by name in “The Evening Ruffian' as one of those heartless' monsters who trample on the finest fibres of the human in their lust for gold.

"I now determined to abandon all thoughts of my own comforts and wishes, and have resigned myself entirely to the service of others, feeling convinced that, till the coffin is nailed down over me, I shall be used up by others; and then, very probably, be shuffled out of my own respectable grave, to make way for some pauper I never heard of.”

When my friend had finished his tirade, I urged upon him, that, at all events, he must have had great satisfaction in the exercise of so much benevolence.

"Not a bit of it,” said he, “ I never had a glimpse of the feeling. I don't know what it means. I have always been cheated out of my own hopes and wishes by the idea of consideration. I don't know how it is, but I have been making the most magnanimous sacrifices all my life, without the least feeling of generosity; and amidst the universal reproaches of my best and dearest connexions of being a cold and almost heartless man. No! the fact is, I was born to be used by others, and so it will be to the end of the chapter.”

"And so it shall," said I, “ for I will use you up in this story, and get something out of a magazine for it." A prophecy which I hope you will help me to fulfil, Mr. Editor.

F. G. T.

OUR MONTHLY CRYPT. "As good almost to kill a man, as kill a good book : who kills a man, kills a reasonable creature, God's image ; but he who destroys a good book, kills Reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth ; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life."

Emerson's Essays.* The American is proud of any man, whose genius tends to give his country an apparent superiority in any pursuit ; be that pursuit what it may. As is the general case with young nations, America pants with the ambition (glorious, however vain,) of accomplishing in months, what other states have found to be the labour of centuries. Jealous to an excess of its national character, almost before it has had time to attain one-burning to distinguish itself in all things that can possibly lend notoriety, from the founding a new school of metaphysics, to the new-fashioning of a hair-comb-we need not wonder that America quickly endowed Emerson with name and place. Whether the Americans understood his outpourings or not, they recognized a soul of greatness in the man; and their policy will not permit them to hide their lights under a bushel. Accordingly, travellers began to set him down among the lions; and thus tidings, that in New England, some "spiritual notability, called Emerson,” was to be found, gradually made their way into Britain.

• Essays : by R. W. Emerson, of Concord, Massachusetts. With Preface, by Thomas Carlyle. London : Fraser. 1841.

It was lucky for Emerson that he was born in America. In England, a dozen years would have supplied him with about as many admirers. Carlyle's reputation for a long time laboured to beat down the aspersion, and worse than neglect, with which he was at first greeted; and at last reaped its reward, not in spite of what was anti-popular in his books, but because the hard crust of his style inclosed so much of that which ever captivates the public. He generally deals with recognizable persons and facts, and very seldom launches into the vague field of speculation; he loves to tread on the firm earth, and feel his footing sure. On the persons and facts he has elected to illustrate, he moralizes and reflects after his own peculiar fashion; occasionally decking his theme with a certain kind of humour, which is too original not to tell. Thus he has turned the French revolution into a magnificent heroic romance, which, were its phraseology less singular, would contain little to obstruct, and much to compel popularity. But Emerson's thoughts and conceptions lack this sensual embodiment. They are the dawnings of a vast creation, not yet perfected-obscure revelations of beauty and truth, seen through a “glass darkly.” The English are with difficulty induced to sympathize with the struggles of a man, to reach the height of contemplation and wisdom; the result of his toil, pictured in some system or logical dissertation, is their sole care. Emerson just gives us the materials of thought, and then leaves us to work out a further road by ourselves; but an English reader takes up a book to avoid the trouble of thinking; he expects to find in it some system to which he can refer as an authority for all his words and deeds. The desires of such a reader, Emerson could not gratify; in his page, splendid idealisms gloam through the dark mist of a pantheistic wilderness; and we are left to disperse the dreariness in the best manner we can. Nevertheless, Emerson himself is but a restless sojourner in these wilds of Pantheism, and is earnestly seeking to wing his flight from thenee into purer ether, and clearer sunshine. As the editor of the present volume of Essays remarks, "he will not long endure to be classed under isms."

We have, in the pages of this magazine, many a time and oft expressed our high admiration and reverence of Emerson; and therefore we may be pardoned for aught that seems depreciatory in what we have above uttered. We accept him as a stout and stalworth defender of that high school of à priori philosophy, the prosperity of which we have so much at heart; but to many of his tenets, we cannot render our allegiance.

But it is not our intention to treat these Essays, written by Emerson and edited by Carlyle antagonistically. All that we intend, at present, is to give our readers a just idea of their contents, by means of long extracts, and a loving commentary. A more elaborate consideration we must postpone to a future opportunity.

The best of these essays is that on “Self-Reliance.” In it Emerson attempts to inculcate the doctrine, that each man should accept as his rule of conduct, not the custom of others, but what is right in his own eyes. “Good and bad,” says he, “ are but names very readily transferable to that or this ; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.” This doctrine (though true) is liable to much misinterpretation ; especially in the vague and paradoxical manner in which it is stated by Emerson. It might be libelled as being a sophistical excuse for vice; or ridiculed as a lame apology for individual obliquity. But if taken in its true width and depth, it forms no justification for yielding to the force of inclination; nay, in reality, exclaims against any such procedure, as an unmanly debasement. Rely on thyself, it does say ; but a man's Self, and his inclinations are twain. The doctrine merely asserts the supremacy of Conscience, and declares, that when she has pronounced aught good or evil, the man should bow to her decision, regardless of the world's approval or displeasure. Man's inclinations are ever in rebellion against the dictates of conscience; and must be subdued, if not destroyed, before his true per

sonality can be assumed. The stumbling-blocks which Emerson raises in the enunciation of this principle, wholly owe their origin to his peculiar phraseology. Thus he says, "No law can be sacred to me, but that of my nature." Now there has been such a vast clatter made concerning the light of nature, and natural reason, that pietistic prejudice holds its nose at the imagined savour of infidelity. Read, however, “No law can be sacred to me but that of my conscience," and every objection disappears.

Let us, however, give Emerson's bold statement in his own words :

“Society," says he, “everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree, for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

“Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which, when quite young, I was prompted to make to a valued adviser who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within ?' my friend suggested— But these impulses may be from below, not from above. I replied, “They do not seem to me to be such ; but if I am the devil's child, I will live then from the deyil.'No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names, very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways. If malice and vanity wear the coat of philanthropy, shall that pass? If an angry bigot assumes this bountiful cause of abolition, and comes to me with his last news from Barbadoes, why should I not say to him, 'Go, love thy infant; love thy wood-chopper : be good-natured and modest; have that grace; and never varnish your hard, uncharitable ambition, with this incredible tenderness for black folk a thousand miles off. Thy love afar is spite at home. Rough and graceless would be such greeting, but truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it-else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached, as the counteraction of the doctrine of love when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother, and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation. Expect me not to shew cause why I seek or why I exclude company. Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent I give to such men as do not belong to me, and to whom I do not belong. There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be; but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools ; the building of meetinghouses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies ;though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold.

“Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule.

There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world,-as invalids and the insane para high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for itself, and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. My life should be unique; it should be an alms, a battle, a conquest, a medicine. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege where I have intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows, any secondary testimony.

“What I must do, is all that concerns me; not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is be who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.

The objection to conforming to usages that have become dead to you, is, that it scatters your force. It loses your time, and blurs the impression of your character. If you maintain a dead church, contribute to a dead Bible Society, vote with a great party either for the government or against it, spread your table like base housekeepers,—under all these screens, I have difficulty to detect the precise man you are. And, of course, so much force is withdrawn from your proper life. But do your thing, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. A man must consider what a blind-man's-buff is this game of conformity. If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument. I hear a preacher announce for his text and topic, the expediency of one of the institutions of his church. Do I not know beforehand that not possibly can he say a new and spontaneous word? Do I not know with all this ostentation of examining the grounds of the institution, he will do no such thing? Do I not know that he is pledged to himself not to look but at one side-the permitted side, not as a man, but as a parish minister? He is a retained attorney, and these airs of the bench are the emptiest affectation. Well, most men have bound their eyes with one or another handkerchief, and attached themselves to some one of these communities of opinion. This conformity makes them not false in a few particulars, authors of a few lies, but false in all particulars. Their every truth is not quite true. Their two is not the real two, their four not the real four: so that every word they say chagrins us, and we know not where to begin to set them right. Meantime nature is not slow to equip us in the prison-uniform of the party to which we adhere. We come to wear one cut of face and figure, and acquire by degrees the gentlest asinine expression. There is a mortifying experience in particular, which does not fail to wreak itself also in the general history; I mean, 'the foolish face of praise,' the forced smile which we put on in company where we do not feel at ease in answer to conversation which does not interest us. The muscles, not spontaneously moved, but moved by a low usurping wilfulness, grow tight about the outline of the face, and make the most disagreeable sensation,-a sensation of rebuke and warning which no brave young man will suffer twice.

“For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And

therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The bystanders look askance on him in the public street or in the friend's parlour. If this aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, -disguise no god, but are put on and oft as the wind blows and a newspaper directs. Yet is the discontent of the multitude more formidable than that of the senate and the col. lege. It is easy enough for a firm man who knows the world to brook the rage of the cultivated classes. Their rage is decorous and prudent; for they are timid, as being very vulnerable themselves. But when to their feminine rage the indignation of the people is added, when the ignorant and the poor are aroused, when the unintelligent brute force that lies at the bottom of society is made to growl and mow, it needs the habit of magnanimity and religion to treat it godlike as a trifle of no concernment.

"The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reFerence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.

“But why should you keep your head over your shoulder? Why drag about this monstrous corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradiet yourself; what then? It seems to be a rule of wisdom never to rely on your memory alone, scarcely even in acts of pure memory, but bring the past for judgment into the thousand-eyed present, and live ever in a new day. Trust your emotion. In your metaphysics you have denied personality to the Deity: yet when the devout motions of the soul come, yield to them heart and life, though they should clothe God with shape and colour. Leave your theory, as Joseph his coat in the hand of the harlot, and flee.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with packthread, do. Else, if you would be a man, speak what you think to-day in words as hard as cannon-balls, and to morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. Ah, then, exclaim the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be misunderstood. Misunderstood ! It is a right fool's word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood ? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

“I suppose no man can violate his nature. All the sallies of his will are rounded in by the law of his being, as the inequalities of Andes and Himmaleh are insignificant in the curve of the sphere. Nor does it matter how you gauge and try him. A character is like an acrostic or Alexandrian stanza ;-read it forward, backward, or across, it still spells the same thing. In this pleasing contrite wood-life which God allows me, let me record day by day my honest thought, without prospect or retrospect, and I cannot doubt it would be found symmetrical, though I mean it not, and see it not. My book should smell of pines and resound with the hum of insects. The swallow over my window should interweave that thread or straw be carries in his bill into my web also. We pass for what we are. Character teaches above our wills. 'Men imagine that they communicate their virtue or vice only by overt actions, and do not see that virtue or vice emit a breath every moment.

"Fear never but you shall be consistent in whatever variety of actions, so they be each honest and natural in their hour. For of one will the actions will be harmonious, however unlike they seem. These varieties are lost sight of

« AnteriorContinua »