« AnteriorContinuar »
One of the strongest influences brought to bear upon the lives of these growing boys was that of their father's sister, "proud, pious, eccentric, exacting, inspiring Aunt Mary Moody Emerson." Full of whims and oddities she certainly was. To test a young girl's moral courage, she once invited her to carry a broomstick across Boston Common. For many years she slept in a bed made like a coffin. She prepared herself a shroud, and as if in thrifty fear that she would outlive its usefulness, she wore it as a dress. She loved her nephews so intensely that she was almost fierce with them in her anxiety lest they should develop some trait that was inconsistent with perfection. She was especially troubled at any manifestation of humor,—“folly,” she called it, and I have fancied that sometimes in Emerson's writings his natural humor is kept under too rigid control by an unconscious deference to the mentor of his boyhood. She was a widely read woman, a keen reasoner, a brilliant thinker, and a clear-sighted critic,- a stimulus and inspiration to them all. "Be generous and great, "Always do what you are afraid to do," these are some of the mottoes that she impressed upon Emerson and his brothers. It is her own "Lift your aims" that comes out in his "Hitch your wagon to a star," and it is her "Scorn trifles" that helped to give to his life its calm and tranquil flow.
"They were born to be educated," said this austere and loving aunt, and in all their privations it seems never to have occurred to any member of the little family that the boys should not go to college. So to college they went, partly paying their way with prizes and scholarships and any kind of work that came to hand.
After graduating, Emerson assisted his older brother in teaching. No one seems to have remarked any incongruity in these two young men of eighteen and twenty opening a
"finishing school" for young ladies. Emerson came to his youth slowly, and perhaps he was younger at fifty than he was at eighteen. At any rate, if we may trust the memories of his pupils, both the young ladies and their parents were satisfied with the success of the undertaking. After the school-keeping, followed the study of theology, six years of the ministry, and then came the time in which he was both teacher and minister, but to a larger audience, the listeners in his lecture-room and the readers of his published writings.
A quiet, peaceful home he found in Concord, Massachusetts; and there he thought and wrote and welcomed his friends. He claimed no exemption from the duties of the villager. He went to town-meeting like any one of the "plain people." He served on the school committee with a never failing enthusiasm for good reading and declamation. After his conscientious visits, he would repeat to his family, with the utmost simplicity, how much he had learned from one school and another. In his description of the man of "royal blood," he unconsciously pictures himself in his unfailing kindness to every one that needed a friend. Rich and poor, learned and unlearned, sorrowed alike at his death — mansions and cottages were draped with black. Never, save when a man is greatly beloved, do the houses of the poor show signs of mourning.
Emerson's place in the development of the literature of his country is not a question for these few pages. He was a poet, even according to his own high definition of the poet as the interpreter of the thought of God expressed in nature. He never lost the simple love of the child for the rose growing under his window, but he felt also a reverence for its sacredness as a message from God that man should live in the present, neither grieving over the past, nor peering too eagerly into the future. A few months before his death,
he looked for a moment in silence at a beautiful rose in his garden, then lifted his hat gently, and said, "I take off my hat to it."
Emerson felt that his thoughts came to him, and those who heard him lecture say that he spoke as if he were listening, and repeating what he had heard. To picture beautiful scenes, to tell thrilling stories, to imitate human action, to crystallize into verse his love for those that were dear to him, that was not his calling; but to keep his soul open, his heart "at leisure from itself" to receive the thoughts that should come to him from above, that was his high vocation.
So it was that he was never inclined to join societies or parties, however much he might sympathize with their aims. Their work was good, but it was not his work. "No society can ever be so large as one man," he wrote (N. E. Reformers). He would make it hard for men to do wrong by making it easy for them to think right. Let those who would struggle in darkness against darkness; his work was to let in the light. Yet in his hands the trumpet gave forth no uncertain sound. His friends in the audience held their breath when he quietly and as a matter of course made his bold speeches after the murder of Lovejoy and the John Brown raid.
But he believed that God's word comes to men directly as well as through the lessons of nature, that "There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word" (Spiritual Laws). Man, as the recipient of direct communication from God, rose to transcendent dignity in Emerson's mind. One or another might have listened to the word, and so it was that he gave his kindly sympathy to all, ever a learner, ever ready to welcome any truth that might have been revealed to the simplest spirit.
He was kept from the extremes of the "reformers" of his day partly by "the innate sentiment of equilibrium” which, according to "Jules Verne," qualifies one to walk in dangerous places, and partly by his sense of humor. He did not go so far as Longfellow and burlesque his own poetry, but he certainly did enjoy keenly a wicked little parody on his Brahma, and he even dared to jest at the earnest Brook Farmers, declaring that when they danced in the cvening, the wooden clothes-pins rattled out of their pockets. Emerson never shut himself into a world of his own. He joyed and sorrowed intensely. His friends were to him as a part of himself. His love for Thoreau stood the test of a two years' residence in the same house. In his last days of feebleness, when even his own home seemed unfamiliar, he looked lovingly at the portrait of. Carlyle and said, "That is my man, my good man."
Emerson's custom was to make a note of all thoughts of value that came to him. These notes he used afterwards in his essays, so that two adjacent sentences may be many years apart. It is perhaps this subtle distance that sometimes seems to permit us to think together with him, so slowly does he feel his way along from phrase to phrase. Sometimes his thoughts come to him in almost the very words in which he presents them to us; sometimes it is but the soul of the thought that is given him, and his materialization of it is difficult and imperfect; sometimes he seems trying to express a truth for which language has no adequate expression. No one, however, can fail to understand his message of good cheer:- Be yourself, rely upon God, and you cannot fail to be of value.
Emerson is not one of those writers that can be labeled and slipped comfortably into their proper literary pigeonholes. Call him a philosopher, and he flashes forth as a poet. Say that with him the thought is all, the expression
naught; and suddenly his diction becomes, as Lowell phrases it, "homespun cloth of gold." Say that his thoughts find their best illustration in the simple village life of New England, and lo! he has an inspiration that only the poetry of the land of "roses, wine, and nightingales" will enable him to embody. Say that his words are old and familiar, and presto! he has slipped away into some fourth dimension of the land of thought; say that they are new, and behold! he is but revealing to us the secrets of our own innermost heart. Call him poet, philosopher, puritan, liberal, what you will, but if you have learned to know him, you will own with joy that a message has been sent to you, and that you have been at the House of the Interpreter.
EVA MARCH TAPPAN.