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"ever since," said Mr. Emerson, "there | able him to get home somewhere, promishas been a chorus of birds singing his ing to return it. Alcott told him that he praises." When he first went to reside on had not a five-piece, but if a twenty would the pleasant little farm at Concord, his do he had that. The man naturally achouse was unprotected from the keen winds cepted the alternative, and went his way of winter, and the intense heats of sum- rejoicing. Mrs. Alcott, on hearing of the mer, for which New England is remarka- transaction, was much provoked, and did ble. A gentleman, with whom Emerson not share her husband's hope of again seehad no acquaintance, riding by, paused, ing the money. On the next day the and saw what was needed. On the next newspaper contained a full description of day a wagon loaded with young firs came, the rogue, and an account of how he had and several workmen occupied the day in on false pretences swindled several others. planting them in front of the house, on Nevertheless, a few days afterwards Aleach side. Since their growth the house cott received a letter containing the monhas been comfortable at all seasons, and ey, in which the swindler declared that the yard remarkable for its beauty. though he had taken the money of other people whenever he could, without compunction, he could not make up his mind to retain the money of a man so simplehearted and generous as to give him four times the amount that he had asked for.
But one day a tall, slender, blonde, and white-haired man was found busily engaged upon Mr. Emerson's grounds, contriving and building with a pile of sticks, which he had heaped together, a fantastic something which might be called arbor, or bower, or summer-house. The architect was A. Bronson Alcott, and this the first and last house evolved from his inner consciousness. Alcott is an institution of Concord and of Transcendentalism, and no account of them would be complete which did not include some sketch of him. Since Wordsworth has celebrated the pedlar in an epic, it may not be thought disparaging to say that this singular individual was in early life a traveler through the Southern States in that capacity, even within a short time of his appearance as builder of the ideal bower in Emerson's garden. But his experience certainly did not whet in him any shrewdness which would entitle him to be considered an exemplary Yankee. Alcott, with a large and interesting family, one daughter of which has become distinguished as an authoress, was, humanly speaking, utterly unable to support it. He was utterly able to do any thing for which the great world was willing to trade; it (with exception of the little Emersons) did not wish his summer-houses, still less those mystical ideas which his genius only authorized him to utter, not to write. But Alcott, despite certain inconveniences, believed that there were still kindly ravens who would feed prophets in extremity. On one occasion he in some way became possessed of a twenty-dollar gold piece, whereat there was rejoicing in his household. On the same day a traveler in distress knocked at his door, and telling a Samuel T. (spoke)—"I was most interpiteous story, besought five dollars to en-ested in this verse: 'He that drinks of
Alcott was without public reputation for a long time, except among the schoolchildren of Boston, among whom he was the hero of heroes. He had an idea that the children were new arrivals from a higher world, and that, could their ideas. and intuitions only be got at and interpreted before they should "fade into the light of common day," we should have the highest revelations. With these ideas he visited many schools, and was freely permitted to occupy a portion of their time with his "Conversations." The children in the schools which he visited were of ages ranging from four to fourteen years. I have reports of two or three of these conversations, which I know to have been genuinely made: they are interesting enough for me to give a specimen here, though they would have been much more interesting if we could have, with the name of each child whose answer is reun-peated, his or her exact age. Mr. Alcott's plan was to read some passage, generally from the New Testament, and then call upon each of the children to declare what portion of such passage made the deepest impression upon his mind, and the reason of that impression.
In the conversation of which I shall give a portion, the children were all between the ages of six and twelve years of age. Mr. Alcott began by reading that portion of the conversation of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, contained in John 4: 16-30.
this water shall thirst again, but he that drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.' He means by this that those who heard what he taught, and did it, should live always; should never die; their spirits should never die."
Mr. Alcott.-" Can a spirit die ?" Samuel T.-"For a spirit to die is to leave off being good."
Edward J. "I was interested in the words, For the water that I shall give him will be in him a well of water." I think it means that when people are good, and getting better, it is like water spring ing up always. They have more and more goodness."
enthusiast's conversation over Michael Wigglesworth's Domesday Booke, with its meditations on the divine glory manifested in the damnation of infants, which was a children's school-book in New Englaud in early times, that I will give it as my conviction that rarely has a chaplet been more gracefully bestowed, or more fitly worn, than upon those white hairs that, on this child-like man, recall the phrase in which Orpheus describes such as "the white blossom of old age." The reader has doubtless recalled the similar conversations, held for an hour each day, by Jean Paul Richter, with the little children of his school at Schwarzenbach, and
Samuel R.-"Water is an emblem of the record of it which he called his "Bonholiness."
mot Anthology." My belief is that Al
Mr. Alcott. "Water means spirit, pure cott knew nothing of this experiment and unspoiled."
when his own was undertaken; but it is, as Richter's English biographer remarks,
Edward J.-"It is holy spirit." Later in the same conversation Mr. Al- "curious to see that German children and cott puts the question: Boston children, making allowance for difference of age, make very much the same observations."
"When a little infant opens its eyes upon this world, and sees things out of itself, and has the feeling of admiration, is there in that feeling the beginning of worship ?"
Josiah (seven years of age.)-"No, Mr. Alcott; a little baby does not worship. It opens its eyes on the world, and sees things, and perhaps wonders what they but it don't know any thing about them or itself. It don't know the use of any thing; there is no worship in it."
Mr. Alcott." But in this feeling of wonder and admiration which it has, is there not the beginning of worship that will at last find its object?"
Josiah. "No; there is not even the beginning of worship. It must have some temptation, I think, before it can know the thing to worship."
Such conversations as the above, it must be remembered, were undertaken in the theoretical interest of Mr. Alcott and a few of his acquaintances, not in that of the children; amongst these, however, the philosopher became famous, and, on one occasion, at the end of a conversation, the children overpowered him, and placed on his head a wreath of flowers which some of the larger girls had carefully contrived from various contributions. And, though I have a lurking suspicion that these children would have been better employed (especially Josiah) eating gingerbread and spinning tops in the back lot, nevertheless, there is such a grand advance in the mild
Since this time Mr. Alcott has held his conversations with circles of grown-up people. And he has certainly not escaped the trials which an energetic Platonist would naturally incur in disseminating his ideas in a very practical age and country.* The logician and the humorist were his mortal foes. On one occasion the simplehearted philosopher, having divided the entity Man into the Knower, the Thinker, the Actor, was interrupted by a religiously-trained lady with the question, whether the Knower, which she understood phonetically, was the same that was saved in the Ark. Some student of Cambridge was wicked enough to mystify the philosopher and the company by inquiring what
*Profane parodies floated about, of which the following is a specimen:
"The world-soul rusheth
In the wood Bars Growl:
But what of that, O brave heart? Art thou laborer?
Art thou Poet?
he thought "of the late theory of Verdantius Grün, that the moon is a mass of sweitzerocaseous matter, congealed from It was some fifteen years ago that I first the uberous glands of the lacteal nebula?" met with a sentence from the writings of which one of his accomplices earnestly Ralph Waldo Emerson. Into old Virmaintained to be the philosophy of Xeno ginia, where I was born and then lived, modernized. Some earthly minds also set literary importations from England were afloat the following as one of the "Orphic permitted, and sometimes occurred; but utterances:" "And why, too, we may the quarantine on all that hailed from New tremblingly ask, is the nose placed in the England was very strict. This single front of the countenance, stretching to- sentence came to me in an English magaward the infinite, but that it may attain, zine, as I lay under the shade-the Viras it were, a fore-smell of the illimitable!" ginian's normal position-on the banks of It would scarcely be just if I did not the beautiful Rappahannock, since then give the reader some of the extemporane- reddened with brave blood. Thenceforth ous sayings of this devout idealist, taken the world was for me changed! I went down from time to time, to suggest the to the bookstores in Fredericsburg, and more important elements in these conver- inquired for Emerson's works. No booksations, which have made them acceptable seller there had ever heard of any writer in the most intelligent American commu- of that name. They had Emerson's arithnities to this day. "Action translates metic! At length, by bringing over from death into life; fable into verity; specula- Falmouth the magazine in which I encountion into experience; freeing man from the tered the sentence, I persuaded a booksorceries of tradition and the torpor of seller that there was such a writer, and he habit. The eternal Scripture is thus expur- promised to try and get his works for me. gated of the falsehoods interpolated into And one day I actually did find myself it by the supineness of the ages. Action locked in my room with the Essays in my mediates between conscience and sense: hand! But already, in that one great senit is the gospel of the understanding." tence-which I can never bring myself to "Choice implies apostacy. The pure, un-quote-my Prospero had waved his wand, fallen soul is above choice." "In the the- and my revels were ended: the fowlingocracy of the soul majorities do not rule." piece and the law-book, which had before "Beelzebub marshals majorities. Proph- divided my days, were laid aside for ever. ets and Reformers are always special ene. To my anxious parents and friends the mies of his and his minions. Multitudes word "Emerson" conveyed no impression ever lie. Every age is a Judas, and betrays whatever, until, on one occasion, a lady, its Messiahs into the hands of the multi- who heard that I had turned hermit to tude. The voice of the private, not pop- study Emerson, was interested to come ular heart, is alone authentic." "The and warn them that her father had once hunger of an age is alike a presentiment employed a young man from the North as and a pledge of its own supply." "Pru- instructor in his household; that this young dence is the foot-print of wisdom." "To man read Emerson; that he was a general benefit another, either by word or deed, unbeliever of the doctrines of the Church, you must have passed from the state in and, in fact, they feared, a skeptic; that which he is to a higher. Experience is he had died of consumption, and that his both law and method of all tuition, all in- last words were "Send my love to R. W. fluence." 66 Opinions are life in foliage; Emerson, who has done more for me than deeds, in fruitage. Always is the fruitless any other on earth." This created a serious tree accursed." "To apprehend a miracle, panic in our household; and it did appear, a man must have wrought it." "The true when the catechetical test was applied, teacher defends his pupils against his own that I was absorbed in very different repersonal influence. He inspires self-trust." flections from those which had been in"Obedience is the mediator of the soul." stilled by early training. Three or four What further I have to say concerning years given to the bitter work of uttering the society into which I have tried to in- the eternal adieu to the hereditary Church troduce the reader, can best be given di- and State, and to the untwining of restrainrectly as personal reminiscences. These ing arms, and I am ready to listen to whatrelate to the last twelve years, during ever still small voice may be sent. This which I have known much of Concord and brings me to Cambridge Divinity College.
its inhabitants, and during a portion of which I have resided there.
But here I am only to rest awhile; soon a bright morning finds me at the door of him whose little sentence, crossing the ocean, had bounded back to seek me out in the woods, where, but for it, I might now have been prowling, not after river game, but after those whom I have learned to know as brothers.
My note of introduction was presented, and my welcome was cordial. Emerson was, apparently, yet young; he was tall, slender, of light complexion; his step was elastic, his manner easy and simple, and his voice at once relieved me of the trembling with which I stood before him-the first great man I had ever seen. (I had seen, however, Webster, and the President, and men called great, at Washington.) He proposed to take me on a walk; and whilst he was preparing, I had the opportunity of looking about the library. Over the mantle hung an excellent copy of Michael Angelo's "Parcæ;" on it there were two statuettes of Goethe, of whom also there were engraved portraits on the walls. Afterwards Emerson showed me eight or ten portraits of Goethe which he had carefully collected. The next in favor was Dante, of whom he had all the known likenesses including various photographs of the mask of Dante, made at Ravenna. Besides the portraits of Shakspeare, Montaigne, and Swedenborg, I remember nothing else on the walls of the library. The book-shelves were well filled with select works; amongst which I was only struck with the many curious Oriental productions, some in Sanscrit. He had, too, many editions in Greek and English, of Plato, which had been carefully read and marked. The furniture of the room was antique and simple. There were, on one side of the room, four considerable shelves, completely occupied by his MSS., of which there were enough, one might suppose, to have furnished a hundred printed volumes, instead of the seven which he has given the world, though under perpetual pressure for more from the publishers and the public.
On this first walk Emerson took me to the Walden Water. This lakelet, which has inspired as many poems perhaps as any in the world, is certainly very beautiful. It is on the eastern verge of Emerson's farm, and he has made it public property. A pure white crystal, in setting of emerald, clear and calm, there being no known inlet or outlet to it, one can scarcely
imagine a more fitting spot for the haunt of a poet. As soon as we reached it its fascinations were felt, and in a few moments we were suspended far out in its delicious embrace. Of all the waters I have ever seen this was the most transparent: to the depth of ten or twelve feet one could see the fishes and the rocks it held.
Having bathed, we sat down on the shore; and then Walden and her beautiful woods began to utter their pæans through his lips. Emerson's conversation was different from that of any one I have ever met with, and unequaled by that of any one, unless it be Thomas Carlyle. Of course there is no comparison of the two possible, but the contrasts between them are very striking and significant. In speaking of that which he conceives to be ignorant error, Mr. Carlyle is vehement, and where he suspects an admixture of falsehood and hypocrisy, his tone is that of rage; and although this indignation is noble and the utterances always thrilling, yet when one recurs to the little man or thing at which they are often leveled, it seems to be like the bombardment of a sparrow's nest with shot and shell. On such Emerson merely darts a spare beam of his wit, beneath which a lie is sure to shrivel; but if he breaks any one on his wheel it must be some one who has been admitted at the banquet of the gods, and violated their laws. Every one who has witnessed the imperial dignity, or felt the weight of authentic knowledge, which characterize Mr. Carlyle's conversation, to such an extent that even his light utterances seem to stand out like pillars of Hercules, must also have felt the earth tremble before the thunders and lightnings of his wrath; but with Emerson, though the same falsehood is fatally smitten, it is by the invisible, inaudible sun-stroke, which has left the sky as bright and blue as before. For the rest, and where abstract truths and principles are discussed, whilst Carlyle astonishes by the range of his sifted knowledge, he does not convey an equal impression of having originally thought out the various problems involved in other departments than those which are plainly his own; but there is scarcely a realm of science or art in which Emerson could not be to some extent the instructor of the Academies. Agassiz, as I have heard him say, prefers his conversation on scientific questions to that of any other.
I remember him on that day at Walden
every man is a rascal when he is sick." "Sickness is utterly selfish; a ghoul feeding on all in the house." "These outward complaints one can not help suspecting originate in inner complaints; when one is sick I am inclined to think something the devil is the matter." "Virtue is health."
as Bunyan's pilgrim might have remem. bered the Interpreter. The growths around, the arrow-head and the orchis, were intimations of that mystic unity in nature, which is the fountain of poetry to him; either of these, or of many others of the remarkably rich vegetable fauna of that region, excited emotions much more solemn than the esthetic in him. He fully felt that if we only knew how to look around we would not have need to look above. He called me to observe that the voices of some fishermen out on the water, talking about their affairs, were intoned by the distance and the water into music; and that the curves which their oars made, marked under the sunlight in silver, made a succession of bows which Diana might covet. I remember to have thought that the local legend of the Indian on whom there was a spell which forbade the rain or the sunshine to fall on him, was here changed, and that on this one there was a spell that caused whatever elements should touch him to crystallize into manifold forms of truth and beauty. On the religious or theological points, about which there was a renewed excitement on account of the tendencies of one class in the prevailing denomination (the Unitarian) to go to the Episcopal Church, of another to Swedenborgianism-both due to that of a still larger class to admit the views of Theodore Parker-he was not deeply interested; and coming from the heated debates at our Cambridge Divinity College to him, could be only symbolized by the plunge from the hot atmosphere into Walden, which we had enjoyed. "I am not much interested in these discussions; but still it does seem deplorable that there is such a tendency in some people to creeds which would take man back to the Chimpanzee." "I have very good grounds for being a Unitarian and a Trinitarian too; I need not nibble for ever at one loaf, but eat it and thank God for it, and earn another." Of Theodore Parker he said it was 66 a great comfort to remember that there was one sane voice heard among the religious and political affairs of America." He could not go to church, but supported the village minister because it was well "to have a conscientious man to sit on school committees, to help at town meetings, to attend the sick and the dead." The thing he hated most was sickness, and often quoted Dr. Johnson's declaration that
In 1852, when I entered the University at Cambridge, Emerson's influence was confined to a few, and these were in the Divinity College, where his influence was dreaded. The secular University had for its idols the governor, the senators, and particularly Daniel Webster. These were the men who occupied the chief seats on the platform at Commencements. Emerson's idea of the scholar was a very high and exacting one; he was to be of a different caste from others. He insisted that the whole plan of educating young men was subverted; the merchants send their sons to the University, not that they may return to trail truth and ideas in the old mires of trade and selfishness, but for just the reverse-that they should be trained in those higher forces which are needed to lift men out of those old ruts. The merchants mean, if they could only express it, we have educated you in order that you might not be one of us; we do not wish you to come and show us how truth and justice may be evaded by cotton and sugar; we have been long under that harrow of low interests, and have adjourned our nobler lives to you." This is the undertone even of the flatteries and plaudits with which they may feel committed to meet the orator or literary man, who descends even for their interests to compromise with King Creed or King Cotton. Nevertheless, Webster was still the idol of Cambridge when he returned about that same time from Washington, crowned by the "solid men of Boston," as he who had saved the Union of the States from dissolution, whilst others were in sackcloth, that their State should have purchased that or any other boon at such a cost as surrendering itself to be the free hunting-ground of slave-catchers. The lecture-room was crowded with students when Emerson uttered the words which have been so well remembered in New England: "Every drop of his blood has eyes that look downward. He knows the heroes of '76 well enough; he does not know the heroes of to-day, when he meets them in the streets"-and the sentence