Imagens das páginas
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

freedom, cultivation, intercourse, revolutions, go to form and deliver-is character. Character and self-reliance. "Trust thyself! every heart vibrates to that iron string." And yet we have our And yet we have our being in a not ourselves. "There is a power above and behind us, and we are the channels of its communications." But our lives must be pitched higher. Life must be lived on a higher plane; we must go up to a higher platform, to which we are always invited to ascend; there the whole scene changes. The good we need is ever close to us, though we attain it not. On the brink of the waters of life and truth, we are miserably dying." This good is. close to us, moreover, in our daily life, and in the familiar, homely places. The unremitting retention of simple and high sentiments in obscure duties that is the maxim for us. Let us be poised and wise, and our own to-day. Let us treat the men and women well-treat them as if they were real: perhaps they are. Men live in their fancy, like drunkards whose hands are too soft and tremulous for successful labor. I settle myself ever firmer in the creed, that we should not postpone and refer and wish, but do broad justice where we are, by whomsoever we deal with; accepting our actual companions and circumstances, however humble or odious, as the mystic officials to whom the universe has delegated its whole pleasure for us. Massachusetts, Connecticut River and Boston Bay you think paltry places, and the ear loves names of foreign and classic topography. But here we are; and if we will tarry a little we may come to learn that here is best. See to it only that thyself is here." Furthermore the good is close to us all. "I resist the scepticism of our education and of our educated men. I do not believe that the differences of opinion and character in men are organic. I do not recognize, besides, the class of the good and the wise, a permanent class of sceptics, or a class of conservatives, or of malignants, or of materialists. I do not believe in the classes. Every man has a call of the power to do something unique." Pretension is useless. "Pretension never feigned an act of real greatness. Pretension never wrote an Iliad,' nor drove back Xerxes, or christianized


[ocr errors]

the world, nor abolished slavery." Exclusiveness is deadly. The exclusive in social life does not see that he excludes himself from enjoyment in the attempt to appropriate it. The exclusionist in religion does not see that he shuts the door of heaven on himself in striving to shut out others. Treat men as pawns and ninepins, and you shall suffer as well as they. If you leave out their heart you shall lose your own. The selfish man suffers more from his selfishness than he from whom that selfishness withholds some important benefit.' A sound nature will be inclined to refuse ease and self-indulgence. To live with some rigor of temperance, or some extreme of generosity, seems to be an asceticism which common good-nature would appoint to those who are at ease and in plenty, in sign that they feel a brotherhood with the great multitude of suffering men.' Compensation, finally, is the great law of life; it is everywhere, it is sure, and there is no escape from it. This is that

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Law alive and beautiful, which works over our heads and under our feet. Pitiless, it avails itself of our success when we obey it, and of our ruin when we contravene it. We are all secret believers in it. It rewards actions after their nature. The reward of a thing well done is to have done it. The thief steals from himself, the swindler swindles himself. You must pay at last your own debt."

99 66

[ocr errors]

This is tonic indeed! And let no one object that it is too general; that more practical, positive direction is what we want; that Emerson's optimism, self-reliance, and indifference to favorable conditions for our life and growth have in them something of danger. "Trust thyself;" what attracts my attention shall have it;" though thou shouldst walk the world over thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune or ignoble ;" call vulgar society is that society whose poetry is not yet written, but which you shall presently make as enviable and renowned as any." With maxims like these, we surely, it may be said, run some risk of being made too well satisfied with our own actual self and state, however crude and imperfect they may be. "Trust thyself ?"-it may be

'what we

said that the common American or Englishman is more than enough disposed already to trust himself. I often reply,


when our sectarians are praised for following conscience: Our people are very good in following their conscience; where they are not so good is in ascertain ing whether their conscience tells them right. What attracts my attention shall have it?" Well, that is our people's plea when they run after the Salvation Army, and desire Messrs. Moody and Sankey. Thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune or ignoble?" But think of the turn of the good people of our race for producing a life of hideousness and immense ennui; think of that specimen of your own New England life which Mr. Howells gives us in one of his charming stories which I was reading lately; think of the life of that ragged New England farm in the "Lady of the Aroostook," think of Deacon Blood and Aunt Maria, and the straight-backed chairs with black horsehair seats, and Ezra Perkins with perfect self-reliance depositing his travellers in the snow! I can truly say that in the little which I have seen of the life of New England, I am more struck with what has been achieved than with the crudeness and failure. But no doubt there is still a great deal of crudeness also. Your own novelists say there is, and I suppose they say true. In the New England as in the Old, our people have to learn, it may be said, not that their modes of life are beautiful and excellent already; they have rather to learn that they must transform them.

To adopt this line of objection to Emerson's deliverances would, however, be unjust In the first place, Emerson's points are in themselves true, if understood in a certain high sense; they are true and fruitful. And the right work to be done, at the hour when he appeared, was to affirm them generally and absolutely. Only thus, could he break through the hard and fast barrier of narrow, fixed ideas, which he found confronting him, and win an entrance for new ideas.

Had he attempted develop ments which may now strike us as expedient, he would have excited fierce antagonism, and probably effected little or nothing. The time might come for doing other work later, but the work

which Emerson did was the right work to be done then.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

In the second place, strong as was Emerson's optimism, and unconquerable as was his belief in a good result to emerge from all which he saw going on around him, no misanthropical satirist ever saw shortcomings and absurdities more clearly than he did, or exposed them more courageously. When he sees the meanness, as he calls it, "of American politics," he congratulates Washington on being long already happily dead," on being "wrapt in his shroud and forever safe.' With how firm a touch he delineates the faults of your two great political parties of forty years ago! The Democrats, he says, I have not at heart the ends which give to the name of democracy what hope and virtue are in it. The spirit of our American radicalism is destructive and aimless; it is not loving; it has no ulterior and divine ends, but is destructive only out of hatred and selfishness. On the other side, the Conservative party, composed of the most moderate, able, and cultivated part of the population, is timid, and merely defensive. of property. It vindicates no right, it aspires to no real good, it brands no crime, it proposes no generous policy. From neither party, when in power, has the world any benefit to expect in science, art, or humanity, at all commensurate with the resources of the nation." Then with what subtle though kindly irony he follows the gradual withdrawal in New England, in the last half century, of tender consciences from the social organizations -the bent for experiments such as that of Brook Farm and the like-follows it in all its dissidence of dissent and Protestantism of the Protestant religion." He even loves to rally the New Englander on his philanthropical activity, and to find his beneficence and its institutions a bore. Your miscellaneous popular charities, the education at college of fools, the building of meetinghouses to the vain end to which many of these now stand, alms to sots, and the thousandfold relief societies though

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

I confess with shame that I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, yet it is a wicked dollar, which by and by I' shall have the manhood to withhold."

[ocr errors]

"Our Sunday-schools and churches and pauper societies are yokes to the neck. We pain ourselves to please nobody. There are natural ways of arriving at the same ends at which these aim, but do not arrive.' Nature does not like our benevolence or our learning much better than she likes our frauds and wars. When we come out of the caucus, or the bank, or the Abolition Convention, or the Temperance Meeting, or the Transcendental Club, into the fields and woods, she says to us : So hot, my little sir?'

[ocr errors]

Yes, truly, his insight is admirable ; his truth is precious. Yet the secret of his effect is not in these; it is in his temper. It is in the hopeful, serene, beautiful temper wherewith these, in Emerson, are indissolubly joined; in which they work, and have their being. He says himself: "We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope, knowing that the perception of the inexhaustibleness of nature is an immortal youth." If this be so, how wise is Emerson! for never had man such a sense of the inexhaustibleness of nature, and such hope. It was the ground of his being; it never failed him. Even when he is sadly avowing the imperfection of his literary power and resources, lamenting his fumbling fingers and stammering tongue, he adds: "Yet, as I tell you, I am very easy in my mind and never dream of suicide. My whole philosophy, which is very real, teaches teaches acquiescence and optimism. Sure I am that the right word will be spoken, though I cut out my tongue. In his old age, with friends dying and life failing, his tune of cheerful, forward-looking hope is still the same: "A multitude of young men are growing up here of high promise, and I compare gladly the social poverty of my youth with the power on which these draw." His abiding word for us, the word by which being dead he yet speaks to us, is this: That which befits us, embosomed in beauty and wonder as we are, is cheerfulness and courage, and the endeavor to realize our aspirations. Shall not the heart, which has received so much, trust the Power by which it lives?"

[ocr errors]

One can scarcely overrate the importance of thus holding fast to happiness and hope. It gives to Emerson's work

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

an invaluable virtue. As Wordsworth's poetry is, in my judgment, the most important work done in verse, in our language, during the present century, so Emerson's Essays are, I think, the most important work done in prose. His work is more important than Carlyle's. Let us be just to Carlyle, provoking though he often is. Not only has he that genius of his which makes Emerson say truly of his letters, that "they savor always of eternity. More than this may be said of him. The scope and upshot of his teaching are true; "his guiding genius," to quote Emerson again, is really "his moral sense, his perception of the sole importance of truth and justice.' But consider Carlyle's temper, as we have been considering Emerson's; take his own account of it: Perhaps London is the proper place for me after all, seeing all places are improper who knows? Meanwhile, I lead a most dyspeptic, solitary, self-shrouded life; consuming. if possible in silence, my considerable daily allotment of pain; glad when any strength is left in me for writing, which is the only use I can see in myself-too rare a case of late. The ground of my existence is black as death; too black, when all void too; but at times there paint themselves on it pictures of gold, and rainbow, and lightning; all the brighter for the black ground, I suppose. Withal, I am very much of a fool." much of a fool." No, not a fool, but turbid and morbid, wilful and perverse. We judge of a man's wisdom by his hope.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Carlyle's perverse attitude toward happiness cuts him off from hope. He fiercely attacks the desire for happiness; his grand point in "Sartor, his secret in which the soul may find rest, is that. one shall cease to desire happiness, that one should learn to say to one's self:


What if thou wert born and predestined not to be happy, but to be unhappy !" He is wrong; Saint Augustine is the better philosopher, who says: "Act we must in pursuance of what gives us most delight. Epictetus and Augustine can be severe moralists enough; but both of them know and frankly say that the desire for happiness is the root and ground of man's being. Tell him and show him that he places

his happiness wrong, that he seeks for delight where delight will never be really found; then you illumine and further him. But you only confuse him by tell ing him to cease to desire happiness; and you will not tell him this unless you are already confused yourself.

Carlyle preached the dignity of labor, the necessity of righteousness, the love of veracity, the hatred of shams. He is said by many people to be a great teacher, a great helper for us, because he does so. But what is the due and eternal result of labor, righteousness, veracity? Happiness. And how are we drawn to them by one who, instead of making us feel that with them is happiness, tells us that perhaps we were predestined not to be happy but to be unhappy?

[ocr errors]

You will find many earnest preachers of our popular religion to be fervent in their praise and admiration of Carlyle. His insistence on labor, righteousness, and veracity pleases them; his contempt for happiness pleases them too. I read the other day a tract against smoking, although I do not happen to be a smoker myself. Smoking," said the tract, is liked because it gives agreeable sensations. Now it is a positive objection to a thing that it gives agreeable sensations. An earnest man will expressly avoid what gives agreeable sensations.' Shortly afterward I was inspecting a school, and I found the children reading a piece of poetry on the common theme that we are here to

[ocr errors]

day and gone to-morrow. I shall soon be gone, the speaker in this poem was made to say

[ocr errors]

And I shall be glad to go,

For the world at best is a dreary place,
And my life is getting low."

How usual a language of popular religion that is, on our side of the Atlantic at any rate! But then our popular religion, in disparaging happiness here. below, knows very well what it is after. It has its eye on a happiness in a future life above the clouds, in the New Jerusalem, to be won by disliking and rejecting happiness here on earth.

And so

long as this ideal stands fast, it is very well. But for many it stands fast no longer; for Carlyle, at any rate, it had failed and vanished. Happiness in labor, righteousness, and veracity-in

the life of the spirit-here was a gospel still for Carlyle to preach, and to help others by preaching. But he baffled them and himself by choosing the paradox that we are not born for happiness at all.

Happiness in labor, righteousness, and veracity; in all the life of the spirit; happiness and eternal hope that was Emerson's gospel. I hear it said that Emerson was too sanguine; that the actual generation in America is not turning out so well as he expected. Very likely he was too sanguine as to the near future; in this country it is difficult not to be too sanguine. Very possibly the present generation may prove unworthy of his high hopes; even several generations succeeding this may prove unworthy of them. But by his conviction that in the life of the spirit is happiness, and by his hope that this life of the spirit will come more and more to be sanely understood, and to prevail, and to work for happiness-by this conviction and hope Emerson was great; and he will surely prove in the end to have been right in them. In this country it is difficult, as I said, not to be sanguine. Many of your writers are over-sanguine, and on the wrong grounds. But you have two men who in what they have written show their sanguineness in a line where courage and hope are just, where they are also infinitely important, but where they are

not easy.

The two men are Franklin and Emerson.* These two are, I think,

*I found with pleasure that this conjunction of Emerson's name with Franklin's had already occurred to an accomplished writer and delightful man, a friend of Emerson, left almost the sole survivor, alas! of the famous. literary generation of Boston-Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. Dr. Holmes has kindly allowed me to print here the ingenious and interesting lines, hitherto unpublished, in which he speaks of Emerson thus:

"Where in the realm of thought, whose air is song,

Does he, the Buddha of the West, belong?
He seems a wingèd Franklin, sweetly wise,
Born to unlock the secret of the skies;
And which the nobler calling-if 'tis fair
Terrestrial with celestial to compare-
To guide the storm-cloud's elemental flame,
Or walk the chambers whence the lightning


Amidst the sources of its subtile fire,

And steal their effluence for his lips and lyre?"

the most distinctively and honorably American of your writers; they are the most original and the most valuable. Wise men everywhere know that we must keep up our courage and hope; that hope is, as Wordsworth well says— "The paramount duty which Heaven lays, For its own honor, on man's suffering heart."

But the very word duty points to an effort and a struggle to maintain our hope unbroken. Franklin and Emerson maintained theirs with a convincing ease, and inspiring joy. Franklin's confidence in the happiness with which industry, honesty and economy will crown the life of this work-day world, is such that he runs over with felicity. With a like felicity does Emerson run


over, when he contemplates the happiness eternally attached to the true life in the spirit. You cannot prize him too much, nor heed him too diligently. has lessons for both the branches of our race. I figure him to my mind as visible upon earth still, as still standing here by Boston Bay, or at his own Concord, in his habit as he lived, but of heightened stature and shining feature, with one hand stretched out toward the East, to our laden and laboring England; the other toward the ever-growing West, to his own dearly loved America-" great, intelligent, sensual, avaricious America." To us he shows for guidance his lucid freedom, his cheerfulness and hope; to you his dignity, delicacy, serenity, elevation. Macmillan's Magazine.



SCENE. A Calvary in the Carmelite Convent of the Faubourg S. Jacques.

[blocks in formation]

Thy meek, fair doves within this convent nest
Sleep with soft lips apart in childlike rest;
Dreamless clear eyes 'neath large white lids unmoved,
And small hands folded on each sinless breast.

One with closed shining wings bends o'er each bed,
Haloes the moonlight round each little head;
Could I but rest like these Thy stainless ones!
Nay, I should dream, and in night's hour of dread,

Things walk in dreams 'twere deathly fair to meet.
Down the long corridor with footsteps fleet
Nightly I speed, and on these friendly stones
Lie through the haunted hours beneath Thy feet.

What though the air be full of sounds and sighs,
Silken-soft murmurs, whispers and replies,

Evil mysterious feet that steal and stir,

Rustle and trail of unseen draperies.

In thy Rood's shelter flee my vain alarms;

Powers of the night may weave their nets and charms,

Here I shall fear no wiles of Lucifer,

He cannot touch me in Thine outspread arms.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »