Page images

fore, though it is not common sense, is in perfect harmony with it.

Will the respect, the writer in the Examiner has for common sense, carry him as far as this? Does he credit common sense ? Does he believe the instinctive beliefs of mankind are true, worthy to be trusted ? If so, we pray him to legitimate those beliefs on the ground of Locke's philosophy. If he does not believe them true, if he denies them, we ask him, what right he has to require philosophical writers to respect common sense ? Moreover, if common sense, the universal beliefs of mankind, the instinctive beliefs of Humanity, the teachings of the spontaneous reason, be discredited, as they must be by a disciple of Locke, we ask, how it is possible to establish the certainty of any thing whatever? We ask those who rail against Humanity, and look upon the instinctive beliefs of the masses with contempt, how they will save us from universal Skepticism?

Art. VII. – An Oration delivered before the Phi Beta

Kappa Society, at Cambridge, August 31, 1837, by Ralph Waldo EMERSON. Boston. James Munroe & Co. 8vo. pp. 26.

[ocr errors]

We have been not a little amused and somewhat edified by the various criticisms on this address, which we have seen and heard of all kinds, from kindling admiration to gaping wonder, shrewd cavilling, sneering doubt, and even offended dignity. We wish, for ourselves, to express our hearty thanks to the author, to disburden our minds of a small load of censure, and utter some thoughts on the subject-matter of the address.

There are writers whom we should designate as in the twilight state, walking ever in an opposite direc

tion to the motion of the earth — following with longing admiration the descending glory of the past — delighting in each tall peak, each floating cloud, which reflects the lustre of a fading day. To them the present is weary and worn, and the darkness and vapors steam up from the sunken vales of common life. There is a second class, in the midnight season of thought, lone and abstracted — watching the truths of eternity as they smile through far space on a darkened world. To them the present is the gleaming lights, the snatches of music, the distasteful clamor of foolish revelry, breaking harshly in upon their hour of rapt and solemn meditation. There is a third class, in morning wakefulness. Their gaze is on the brightening orient. They stand as muezzins on the mosques, as watchmen on the towers, summoning to prayer and work ; — for the streaks of the dawning, and the golden flushes, are heralding the sun. The present is bright to them with hope ; and the dewy incense promises fruitfulness, and the rising race are going forth to husband the garden of life. There is a fourth class, in the noonday and sunny cheerfulness, and clear light, of God's providence in the present time, on whose useful toil the spirit of the age shines down to ripen and to bless.

When we read a former production by the author of this address, we feared from its tone of somewhat exclusive and unsympathising contemplativeness, that he was of the second class. But we hail him now as one of the youthful expectants of a coming brighter hour of social life. Shall we not indeed say, that in his industry, and the unreserved communication of his best nature, as a preacher and lecturer, we gratefully recognise him as one of the working men of this generation ? And yet would we see him more fully warmed with the great social idea of our era, the great idea, which he has hinted at in this very address — of human brotherhood, of sonship to God. We have full faith that in this land is this idea to be manifested in individual character, in social life, in

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

p. 26.

[ocr errors][merged small]

art, in literature, as for the last eighteen hundred years it has been in religion. We echo with joy the language of the orator.

“Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp which now flames in our zenith, as astronomers announce, shall one day be the pole-star for a thousand years. – p. 1. And again, “ This confidence in the unsearched might of man belongs by all motives, by all prophecy, by all preparation to the American Scholar. p. 25. And again, A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.”

Why did Providence veil our land till the fulness of time, and then gather upon it an elect people from all nations of the earth, under institutions the most favorable to individual development, if not, that in a recovered Eden of freedom, love and peace, the products of all by-gone civilization, might blossom together? And shall not such a social state of Humanity utter itself, and is not that utterance a Literature ?

We see, in Mr. Emerson, many traits befitting an American, that is, a Christian, free writer. He has deep faith in a heavenly Father of souls, reverence for each brother as a child of God,

respect for his own reason as a divine inspiration, — too much love for men to fear them, - a conscientious hungering and thirsting for truth, and a serene trust in the triumph of good. He seems to us true, reverent, free, and loving. We cheerfully tolerate therefore any quaint trappings, in which a peculiar taste may lead him to deck his thoughts; and we pity the purists, who cannot see a manly spirit through a mantle not wholly courtly. At the same time we will freely express our regret that Mr. Emerson's style is so little a transparent one. There are no thoughts which may not be simply expressed. Raphael's pictures with their profound beauty are simple as a family group in a peasant's cottage, or a crowd in a market place. The author of this address, we feel assured, does not

[ocr errors]

willingly hide his thoughts from the poor vanity of being understood only by the initiated; and we have no doubt endeavors to be intelligible. He loves truth and respects man too well for such folly. His faith that man's very holy of holies enshrines no ideas too pure for popular worship, is thus beautifully expressed :

The orator distrusts at first the fitness of his frank confessions, - his want of knowledge of the persons he addresses, - until he finds that he is the complement of his hearers ; — that they drink his words because he fulfils for them their own nature; the deeper he dives into his privatest, secretest presentiment, — to his wonder he finds, this is the most acceptable, most public, and universally true. The people delight in it; the better part of every man feels, this is my music : this is myself.” — p. 18.

Why then should he not open himself freely, simply? We think he means to do so. He cordially welcomes us to his high summits of speculation, and to the prospect they command, in full faith that our sight is keen as his. But he forgets that he has not pointed out the way by which he climbed. His conclusions are hinted, without the progressive reasonings through which he was led to them. Perhaps he does not come at them by any consecutive processes. They rather come to him unasked. To use his own language,

“ The new deed is yet a part of life, - remains for a time immersed in our unconscious life. In some contemplative hour, it detaches itself from the life, like a ripe fruit, to become a thought of the mind.”

There are no developments of thought, there is no continuous flow in his writings. We gaze as through crevices on a stream of subterranean course, which sparkles here and there in the light, and then is lost. The style is in the extreme aphoristic. But again, another cause of his obscurity is a fondness for various illustration. He has a quick eye for analogies, and finds in all nature symbols of spiritual facts. His

[ocr errors]

-p. 13.

[ocr errors]

figures are occasionally so exquisitely felicitous, that we have hardly the heart to complain of this habit of mind, though, we confess, that not seldom we are attracted from the feature of his thoughts to the splendid jewelry of their attire, and yet oftener annoyed by the masquerade of rural or civic plainness, in which they see fit to march.

The subject of this Address is “ The American Scholar," his training, duties, and prospects; and we cannot but wish that there had been more unity and order observed in treating it. The division is good - and the thoughts are apparently cast in a form. But the truth is, there is no progress, no onward stream. The best thoughts are not the leading but the incidental ones, and their arrangement might be varied without much altering the effect of the whole. But then these thoughts are fine ones, and there is a mass of them.

And they might easily be run into shape, or rather built into a beautiful composition; or yet again grow naturally forth from the root of his central idea. This idea is variously expressed :

« There is One Man present to all particular men only partially; you must take the whole of society to find the whole man." “ Man is one." "It is one soul which animates all men." “In a century — in a millennium one or two men; that is to say, one or two approximations to the right state of

All the rest behold in the hero or the poet their own green and crude being ripened.” “ A man rightly viewed comprehendeth the particular natures of all men.

Each philosopher, each bard, each actor, has only done for me as by a delegate what I can one day do for myself.” The one thing of value in the world is the active soul, — the soul free, sovereign, active." “A nation of men, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men."

This fundamental truth, which Jesus felt, uttered, and lived as no disciple has ever faintly dreamed of, our author has apprehended with awe. It is a thought to open the fountains of the soul. As the orator says,

“ No men are now perfect. Each is part only of a man, and in this distribution of the functions the scholar is the del

every man.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »