by Paul Elmer More

It becomes more and more apparent that Emerson, judged by an international or even by a true national standard, is the outstanding figure of American letters. As a steady force in the transmutation of life into ideas and as an authority in the direction of life itself he has obtained a recognition such as no other of his countrymen can claim. And he owes this pre-eminence not only to his personal endowment of genius, but to the fact also that, as the most complete exponent of a transient experiment in civilization, he stands for something that the world is not likely to let die.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, born in Boston, May 25, 1803, gathered into himself the very quintessence of what has been called the Brahminism of New England, as transmitted through the Bulkeleys, the Blisses, the Moodys, and the direct paternal line. Peter Bulkeley, preferring the wilderness of Satan to Laudian conformity, came to this country and, in 1636, founded Concord. William Emerson, his descendant in the fifth generation, was builder of the Old Manse in the same town, and a sturdy preacher to the minute-men at the beginning of the Revolution; and of many other ministerial ancestors stories abound which show how deeply implanted in this stock was the pride of rebellion against traditional forms and institutions, united with a determination to force all mankind to worship God in the spirit. With William, son of him of Concord and father of our poet, the fires of zeal began to wane. Though the faithful pastor of the First Church (Unitarian) of Boston, it is recorded of him that he entered the ministry against his will. Yet he too had his unfulfilled dream of "coming out" by establishing a church in Washington which should require no sort of profession of faith. He died when the future philosopher was a boy of ten, leaving the family to shift for itself as best it could. Mrs. Emerson cared for the material welfare of the household by taking in boarders. The chief intellectual guidance fell to the aunt, Mary Moody Emerson, of whom her nephew drew a portrait in his Lectures and Biographies. "She gave high counsels," he says. Indubitably she did; but a perusal of her letters and the extracts from her journals leaves the impression that the pure but erratic enthusiasms of her mind served rather to push Emerson in the direction of his weaker inclination than to fortify him against himself. When a balloon is tugging at its moorings there is need of low counsels.

In 1817, Emerson entered Harvard College, and in due course of time graduated. Then, after teaching for a while in his brother's school in Boston, he returned to Cambridge to study for the ministry, and was in the autumn of 1826 licensed to preach. Three years later he was called to the Second Church of Boston, as assistant to Henry Ware, whom he soon succeeded. His ministration there was quietly successful, but brief. In 1832, he gave up his charge on the ground that he could not conscientiously celebrate the Communion, even in the symbolic form customary among the Unitarians. He was for the moment much adrift, his occupation gone, his health broken, his wife lost after a short period of happiness. In this state he went abroad to travel in Italy, France, and England. One memorable incident of the journey must be recorded, his visit to Carlyle at Craigenputtock, with all that it entailed of friendship and influence; but beyond that he returned with little more baggage than he took with him. He now made his residence in Concord, and married a second wife, who was to be a true helpmeet until the end. Thenceforth there was to be no radical change in his life, but only the gradual widening of the circle. The house that he bought, he continued to inhabit until it was burned down in 1872; and then his friends, in a manner showing exemplary tact, subscribed money for rebuilding it on the same lines. For a number of years he preached in various pulpits, and once even considered the call to a settled charge in New Bedford, but could not overcome his aversion to the ritual of the Lord's Supper and to regular prayers. Meanwhile, by the medium of lectures delivered here and there and by printed essays, he was making of himself a kind of lay preacher to the world. His method of working out the more characteristic of these discourses has long been known. He would select a theme, and then ransack his note-books for pertinent passages which could be strung together with the addition of such developing and connecting material as was necessary. But since the publication of his Journals it has been possible to follow him more precisely in this procedure and to see more clearly how it conforms with the inmost structure of his mind. These remarkable records were begun in early youth and continued, though at the close in the form of brief memoranda, to the end of his life. The first entry preserved (not the first written, for it is from Blotting Book, No. xvii) dates from his junior year at college and contains notes for a prize dissertation on the Character of Socrates. Among the sentences is this:

What is God? said the disciples, and Plato replied, It is hard to learn and impossible to divulge.
And the last page of the record, in the twelfth volume, repeats what is really the same thought:
The best part of truth is certainly that which hovers in gleams and suggestions unpossessed before man. His recorded knowledge is dead and cold. But this chorus of thoughts and hopes, these dawning truths, like great stars just lifting themselves into his horizon, they are his future, and console him for the ridiculous brevity and meanness of his civic life.
There is of course much variety of matter in the Journals - shrewd observations on men and books, chronicles of the day's events, etc. - but through it all runs this thread of self-communion, the poetry, it might be called, of the New England conscience deprived of its concrete deity and buoying itself on gleams and suggestions of eternal beauty and holiness. Of the same stuff, not seldom indeed in the same words, are those essays of his that have deeply counted; they are but a repetition to the world of fragments of this long inner conversation. Where they fail to reach the reader's heart, it is not so much because they are fundamentally disjointed, as if made up of sentences jostled together like so many mutually repellent particles; as because from the manner of his composition Emerson often missed what is the essence of good rhetoric, that is to say the consciousness of his hearer's mind as well as of his own. We hear him as it were talking to himself, with no attempt to convince by argument or to enlighten by analysis. If our dormant intuition answers to his, we are profoundly kindled and confirmed; otherwise his sentences may rattle ineffectually about our ears.

Emerson's first published work was Nature (1836), which contains the gist of his transcendental attitude towards the phenomenal world, as a kind of beautiful symbol of the inner spiritual life floating dreamlike before the eye, yet, it is to be noted, having discipline as one of its lessons for the attentive soul. The most characteristic and influential of his books are the two volumes of Essays, issued respectively in 1841 and 1844. In the former of these are those great discourses on Self-Reliance, Compensation, and the Over-Soul, into which was distilled the very quintessence of the volatile and heady liquid known as Emersonianism. Other volumes followed in clue course. The later publications, however, beginning with Letters and Social Aims (1875), are made up mainly of gleanings from the field already harvested, and were even gathered by hands not his own.

Two of his addresses (now both included in the volume with Nature) deserve special notice for the attention they attracted at the time. The first of these is the oration before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard, in 1837, a high but scarcely practical appeal to the American Scholar to raise himself above the dust of pedantries, even out of the routine of what is "decent, indolent, complaisant," and to reach after the inspiration of "the Divine Soul which also inspires all men." The other lecture was delivered the next year before the senior class in Divinity College, Cambridge, and held up to the prospective preacher about the same ideal as was presented to the scholar. Historical Christianity is condemned because "it is not the doctrine of the soul, but an exaggeration of the personal, the positive, the ritual. It has dwelt, it dwells, with noxious exaggeration about the person of Jesus." The founder of Christianity saw, indeed, "with open eye the mystery of the soul," but what as a man he saw and knew of man's divinity cannot be given to man to-day by instruction, but only on the terms of a like intuition. The Unitarians of Massachusetts had travelled far from the Calvinistic creed of the Pilgrim Fathers, but Emerson's suave displacement of the person of Jesus for the "chorus of thought and hopes" in any human soul, perhaps even more his implicit rejection of all rites and institutions, raised a good deal of protest among the worshippers of the day. For the most part he answered the criticism by silence, but in a letter replying to one of the more courteous of his opponents he used these significant words: "I could not give an account of myself, if challenged. I could not possibly give you one of the 'arguments' you cruelly hint at, on which any doctrine of mine stands; for I do not know what arguments are in reference to any expression of a thought." There may be some guile in this pretence to complete intellectual innocence, but it is nevertheless a fair statement of a literary method which seeks, and obtains, its effect by throwing a direct light into the soul of the hearer and bidding him look there and acknowledge what he sees.

Of the events of these years there is not much to relate. A journey to Europe, in 1847, resulted in the only two of his books that may be said to have been composed as units: Representative Men (published in 1850, from a series of lectures delivered in London), which displays Emerson's great powers as an ethical critic, and English Traits (1856), which proves that his eyes were observing the world about him with Yankee shrewdness all the while that he seemed to be gazing into transcendental clouds. Into the question of slavery and disunion which was now agitating the country, he entered slowly. It was natural that one to whom the power and meaning of institutions had little appeal and to whom liberty was the all-including virtue, should have been drawn to the side of the Abolitionists, but at first there was a philosophical aloofness in his attitude. Only after the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law and Webster's defection were his passions deeply engaged. Then he spoke ringing words:

There is infamy in the air. I have a new experience. I awake in the morning with a painful sensation, which I carry about ail day, and which, when traced home, is the odious remembrance of that ignominy which has fallen on Massachusetts, which robs the landscape of beauty, and takes the sunshine out of every hour.
And the war came to him as a welcome relief from a situation which had grown intolerable.

A third trip to Europe was made in 1872, when his central will was already relaxing and his faculties were losing their edge. It was at this time that Charles Eliot Norton talked with Carlyle, and heard the old man, eight years older than Emerson, expatiate on the fundamental difference in their tempers. Norton records the conversation in his Journal:

As we were sitting together just after my coming in this afternoon, Carlyle spoke of Emerson. "There's a great contrast between Emerson and myself. He seems verra content with life, and takes much satisfaction in the world, especially in your country. One would suppose to hear him that ye had no troubles there, and no share in the darkness that hangs over these old lands. It's a verra strikin' and curious spectacle to behold a man so confidently cheerful as Emerson in these days.

"Well, it may be as you say. I'm not such a verra bloody-minded old villain after all," (here a cordial laugh,) "not quite so horrid an ogre as some good people imagine. But the warld is verra black to me; and I see nothin' to be content with in this brand new, patent society of ours."

For some time there had been a gradual loosening of Emerson's hold on life. Though always an approachable man and fond of conversation, there was in him a certain lack of human warmth, of "bottom," to use his own word, which he recognized and deplored. Commenting in his Journal (May 24, 1864) on the burial of Hawthorne, he notes the statement of James Freeman Clarke that the novelist had "shown a sympathy with the crime in our nature," and adds: "I thought there was a tragic element in the event, that might be more fully rendered,--in the painful solitude of the man, which, I suppose, could not longer be endured, and he died of it." A touch of this romantic isolation, though never morose or "painful," there was in himself, a failure to knit himself strongly into the bonds of society. "I have felt sure of him," he says of Hawthorne in the same passage, "in his neighbourhood, and in his necessities of sympathy and intelligence,--that I could well wait his time,- his unwillingness and caprice,- and might one day conquer a friendship.... Now it appears that I waited too long." Eighteen years later, standing by the body of Longfellow, he was heard to say: "That gentleman was a sweet, beautiful soul, but I have entirely forgotten his name." Such forgetfulness, like a serene and hazy cloud, hovered over Emerson's brain in his closing years. A month afterwards, on the 27th of April, 1882, he himself faded away peacefully. He lies buried under the shadow of a tall pine-tree in Sleepy Hollow.

To one who examines the events of Emerson's quiet life with a view to their spiritual bearing it will appear that his most decisive act was the surrender of his pulpit in 1832. Nearly a century, earlier, in 1750, the greatest of American theologians had suffered what now befell the purest of American seers; and though the manner of their parting was different (Jonathan Edwards had been unwillingly ejected, whereas Emerson left with good will on both sides), yet there is significance in the fact that the cause of separation in both cases was the administration of the Lord's Supper. Nor is there less significance in the altered attitude of the later man towards this vital question. Both in a way turned from the ritualistic and traditional use of the Communion, and in this showed themselves leaders of the spirit which had carried the New England Fathers across the ocean as rebels against the Laudian tyranny of institutions. Edwards had revolted against the practice of Communion as a mere act of acquiescence in the authority of religion; he was determined that only those should approach the Table who could give evidence of a true conversion, by conversion meaning a complete emotional realization of the dogma of divine Grace and election. The eucharist was not a rite by conforming with which in humility men were to be made participators in the larger religious experience of the race, but a jealously guarded privilege of the few who already knew themselves set apart from the world. He was attempting to push to its logical issue the Puritan notion of religion as a matter of individual and inward experience; and if he failed it was because life can never be rigidly logical and because the worshippers of his day were already beginning to lose their intellectual grasp on the Calvinistic creed. By Emerson's time, among the Unitarians of Boston, there could be no question of ritualistic grace or absolute conversion, but his act, nevertheless, like that of Edwards, was the intrusion of unyielding consistency among those who were content to rest in habit and compromise.

Emerson had come to the inevitable conclusion of New England individualism; he had, in a word, "come out." Edwards had denied the communal efficacy, so to speak, of rites, but had insisted on inner conformity with an established creed. Emerson disavowed even a conformity in faith, demanding in its stead the entire liberty of each soul to rise on its own spiritual impulse. He was perspicacious and honest enough to acknowledge to himself the danger of such a stand. "I know very well," he wrote in his journal at the time of his decision, "that it is a bad sign in a man to be too conscientious, and stick at gnats. The most desperate scoundrels have been the over-refiners. Without accommodation society is inpracticable." But, he adds, he could "not go habitually to an institution which they esteem holiest with indifference and dislike"; and again, looking deeper into his heart, "This is the end of my opposition, that I am not interested in it." Emerson's act of renunciation was not only important as determining the nature of his career, but significant also of the transition of New England from theological dogmatism to romantic liberty. Much has been written about the influences that shaped his thoughts and about the relation of his transcendentalism to German metaphysics. In his later years it is clear that the speculations of Kant and Schelling and Fichte were known to him and occasionally coloured his language, but his Journals prove conclusively enough that the whole stamp of his mind was taken before these sources were open to him. Indirectly, no doubt, something of the German spirit came to him pretty early through Carlyle, and a passage in his Journal for December 13, 1829, shows that he was at that time already deeply engaged in the Teutonized rhapsodies of Coleridge. But it would be easy to lay too much stress even on this indirect affiliation. Long before that date, as early as his senior year in college, he is yearning "to separate the soul for sublime contemplation till it has lost the sense of circumstances," and otherwise giving implicit expression to the full circle of transcendental faith. He was in fact the product of a great movement that was sweeping over the world as it listed; his early reading went back mainly to the Greek philosophers and the poets and preachers of seventeenth-century England, but they were interpreted by him under the light of the new emancipation of the emotions. When he declared, in Nature, that "the vision of genius comes by renouncing the too officious activity of the understanding, and giving leave and amplest privilege to the spontaneous sentiment," he was merely stating in precise terms an idea familiar to Blake and to the romanticists of every land - the elevation of enthusiasm above judgment, of emotion above reason, of spontaneity above discipline, and of unlimited expansion above centripetal control. But there was another element as strongly formative of Emerson's disposition as was the broadening current of rebellion against the reason, and that was his ancestral inheritance. Romantic spontaneity moved in various directions in accordance with the field in which it worked; in an Emerson, with all the divinity of Massachusetts in his veins, it might move to repudiate theological dogma and deny Jehovah, but it could not get out of hearing of the question "What is God?" It could not fall into the too common confusion of spiritual aspiration with the sicklier lusts of the flesh; it could never, for all its centrifugal wandering, overstep the bounds of character. There, I think, we touch the quick of the matter. The course of Puritan emancipation led in the end to an individualism and a trust in sheer unrestrained spontaneity which are in many ways akin to the temper of the European revolt. You will find the marks of this affiliation as far back as in the reveries in which Jonathan Edwards records his isolation from mankind and absorption in inanimate nature; and when German literature reached this land it found in Emerson and Longfellow and others a material ready to its hand. But with all the similarity between the two movements and despite the influence of German literature, when it came, upon Concord and Cambridge, there remained this striking and fundamental distinction: the spontaneity and individualism of the romantic movement on the Continent went with a dissolution of Character against which the Puritan mind, so long as it held true to its origin, was impregnably fortified. Emersonianism may be defined as romanticism rooted in Puritan divinity.

It is scarcely necessary to illustrate this union of religious individualism and stability of character by quotations from Emerson's verse; yet, for the light they throw on his literary method, if for no other reason, I will quote one or two of his familiar pieces. The best known expression of the idea of the deity sitting in the breast of each man, yet embracing the world, is found in those stanzas entitled Brahma, which, it is hard to know why, caused such a stir when they first appeared. Even clearer in purport, as showing how this faith in the inner power grew out of the Puritan distrust of traditional rites and institutions, are the opening lines of The Problem:

I like a church; I like a cowl;
I love a prophet of the soul;
And on my heart monastic aisles
Fall like sweet strains, or pensive smiles:
Yet not for all his faith can see
Would I that cowled churchman be.

Why should the vest on him allure,
Which I could not on me endure?
Not from a vein of shallow thought
His awful Jove young Phidias brought;
Never from lips of cunning fell
The thrilling Delphic oracle;
Out from the heart of nature rolled
The burdens of the Bible old;
The litanies of nations came,
Like the volcano's tongue of flame,
Up from the burning core below,-
The canticles of love and woe:
The hand that rounded Peter's dome
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome
Wrought in a sad sincerity;
Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than he knew;-
The conscious stone to beauty grew.

It is significant of this confidence in individual inspiration that generally in Emerson, as in other poets, it tends to looseness and formless spontaneity of style. When, on the contrary, he turns to the note of character, his language becomes instantly terse and restrained, and falls naturally into symmetrical form. Matthew Arnold has cited for approval the two quatrains in which this note is heard most clearly:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can-
and this other,
Though love repine and reason chafe,
There came a voice without reply,-
"'T is man's perdition to be safe,
When for the truth he ought to die."
(It may be interesting to observe that the two last lines, as we learn from Emerson's Journal, were taken bodily from the sermon of a Puritan divine preached in 1642. That by the way.) Of the two quatrains as a whole Matthew Arnold remarks that they are "exceptional" in our poet. They are that, and something more: they are exceptional in literature. One would have to search far in English to discover anything equal to them in their own kind. They have the cleanness and radiance of the couplets of the Greek Simonides. They may look easy, but as a matter of fact the ethical epigram is an extremely difficult genre, and to attain this union of gravity and simplicity is one of the supreme accomplishments of art. Along with absolute sureness of touch there is required an entire balance and control of the faculties, a deep respect for the springs of human nature -in a word, character.

While speaking of these traits I ought not to pass by the little poem entitled Days, in which the feeling for beauty in itself, superadded to insight and the note of character, produces a work of exquisite finish and haunting charm:

Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes.
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky, that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.
These, it must be admitted, are rare occurrences in Emerson, the event of what Plato would call a divine chance; if they had come oftener, or had been at his command, he would have been, despite the limitations of his subject-matter, one of the very great poets of the world. But this was not to be. On the contrary, by the side of these poems which are marked by masterly form and restraint you will find others, and these the more numerous, in which he surrenders himself to the shifting breath of inspiration like a rudderless boat, to such a degree, indeed, that over much of his work his own word "whim" might be set as a superscription.

The philosophy of his prose essays - so far as he can be said to have systematized his thoughts at all - shows this same lighthearted legerdemain. Nor is this philosophy hard to discover; the whole circle of his ideas is likely to be present, explicit or implicit, in any one of his great passages:- the clear call to self-reliance, announcing that "a man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within"; the firm assurance that, through all the balanced play of circumstance, "there is a deeper fact in the soul than compensation, to wit, its own nature"; the intuition, despite all the mists of illusion, of the Over-Soul which is above us and still ourselves: "We live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles; meanwhile within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty . . .; the eternal One."

Emerson's philosophy is thus a kind of vanishing dualism, and a man's attitude towards it in the end will be determined by his sense of its sufficiency or insufficiency to meet the facts of experience. One of Emerson's latest biographers has attempted to set forth this philosophy as "a synthesis and an anticipation," in that we find in it, as Emerson had already found in Plato and Plotinus, a reconciliation which all men are seeking of "the many and the one," the everlasting flux and the motionless calm at the heart of things:

An ample and generous recognition of this transiency and slipperiness both in the nature of things and in man's soul seems more and more a necessary ingredient in any estimate of the universe which shall satisfy the intellect of the coming man. But it seems equally true that the coming man who shall resolve our problems wilt never content himself with a universe a-tilt, a universe in cascade, so to speak; the craving for permanence in some form cannot be jauntily evaded, is there any known mind which foreshadows the desired combination so clearly as Emerson's? Who has felt more profoundly the evanescence and evasiveness of things? . . . Yet Emerson was quite as firm in his insistence on a single unalterable reality as in his refusal to believe that any aspect or estimate of that reality could be final.[O.W. Firkins, Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 564.]
The necessity of the dualism that underlies Emerson's philosophy could scarcely be put more neatly, and the kind of synthesis, or reconciliation, in which Emerson floated is admirably expressed. But I am not so sure that this synthesis anticipates the solution of the troublesome problems of life, or that it will afford the kind of spiritual consolation which hitherto mankind has found in religion. There will be those who will ask whether the power of religion for mature minds does not depend after all on its feeling for evil as a tremendous reality. How otherwise, in fact, shall religion meet those harder questions of experience when its aid is most needed? And in like manner they will say that the power of philosophy as the dux vitae depends on its acquaintance with the scope and difficulties of scepticism. Both religion and philosophy would seem, in such a view, to rest not only on a statement of the dualism of good and evil, knowledge and ignorance, but on a realization of the full meaning and gravity, practical and intellectual, of this dualism. Now Emerson certainly recognizes the double nature of experience, but it is a fair question whether he realizes its full meaning and fateful seriousness. He accepts it a trifle too jauntily; is sometimes too ready to wave aside its consequences, as if a statement of the fact were an escape from its terrible perplexities. To be reconciled so cheerfully to this dark dilemma is not a reconciliation of the dilemma itself, but argues rather some deep-lying limitation of spiritual experience. Carlyle meant something of the sort when he worried over Emerson's inability to see the hand of the devil in human affairs - a strange paradoxical charge to bring against the purest inheritor of the old faith of New England, yet essentially true.

A good way to learn what this denial of evil led to in practice is to turn from Emerson to some of his weaker-minded followers or friends. For example, Bronson Alcott, one of the Concord illuminati, chanced to be in England in the year 1842, and there, in concert with one or two Englishmen who had imbibed his vaporous ideas, concocted a plan to found in the vicinity of Boston and Concord "a New Eden," where man might live in primitive simplicity and forget the wretched illusion of the existence of sin. So came about the experiment of "Fruitlands," the communal farm of philosophers at the village of Harvard, one of the funniest and, for some of those involved, one of the saddest attempts to disregard the facts of life and human nature.

Of the group of "consecrated cranks," as a rebel afterwards styled them, one, a mild lunatic named Samuel Brown, believed in salvation by the grace of nakedness. The poor fellow soon became discontented because, in deference to the ladies of the community, they forced him to restrict his practice of salvation to the hours of night, and even then to mitigate its purity by wearing a single garment. In that garb he used to wander over the hills like a white ghost, until rumours of the unearthly apparition got about among the farming folk and caused a prosaic search for the visitant with a posse comitatis. Meanwhile, as he was confined to his chamber by day, he did not contribute much to the physical well-being of the settlement. Another of the genial come-outers was a cooper by trade, described in a letter as "an excellent assistant here, very faithful to every work he undertakes, very serious." That sounds promising. But unfortunately there were drawbacks to his full acceptance by the leaders of the band. He "has had rather deep experience," continues the writer of the letter, "having been imprisoned in a mad house by his relatives because he had a little property, but still he is not a spiritual being, at least not consciously and wishfully so." Really that is one of the most delicious sentences on record from the pen of a saint - imprisoned in a mad house, but still (note the conjunction) not a spiritual being.

These good people had a double purpose: one, sufficiently humble, to support themselves, that is, their unmentionable bodies, on the pure fruits of the earth; the other, more elevated, to plant "a love colony," as their Eden was called, where the brotherhood of man should reign unpolluted by the lust of property, and by their illustrious example to aid "entire human regeneration." It cannot be said that they succeeded very well in feeding themselves, and when food was bad they took it out, like other mortals, in grumbling at the cooks. The men of the colony were so absorbed in the contemplation of the mystery of holiness that the fruits of the field rather languished. As Alcott's daughter said, they "were so busy discussing and defining great duties that they forgot to perform the small ones." The barley crops somehow would not harvest themselves, so they were got in by the women while the masculine sages were wandering off in the amiable desire of "aiding entire human regeneration." Things grew worse and worse, until it came to a question of leaving or starving. It is very pretty to declare that the body is "all sham"; but you can't feed it by shamming work.

And as for the spirit, by some unaccountable means the serpent seems to have crept into this Eden, as he did into the original experiment. The "love colony" soon developed into a circle of disappointed, jealous, fault-finding men and women, who found it to their advantage to seek shelter from one another by scattering in the wicked world. This is one of Father Hecker's memoranda: "Somebody once described 'Fruitlands' as a place where Mr. Alcott looked benign and talked philosophy, while Mrs. Alcott and the children did all the work." It is well to look benign, but another of the colonists wrote in a different vein. "All.the persons," he complains, "who have joined us during the summer have from some cause or other quitted, they say in consequence of Mr. Alcott's despotic manner, which he interprets as their not being equal to the Spirit's demands." It looks a little as if these spiritual demands were not unaccompanied with spiritual pride; and pride, we remember, is sometimes said to have been the sin that broke up the original Eden.

Emerson, of course, was too knowing ever to have joined himself in the flesh to these altruistic humbugs; but one cannot forget that he was a patron of Alcott's and for the most part took that dilapidated Platonist with portentous seriousness. For instance, he observes in his Journal for 1857:

Last night in the conversation Alcott appeared to great advantage, and I saw again, as often before, his singular superiority. As pure intellect I have never seen his equal. The people with whom he talks do not ever understand him; . . . do not know that all they have in their baby brains is incoherent and spotty; that all he sees and says is like astronomy, lying there real and vast, every part and fact in eternal connection with the whole.
The truth is that Alcott is in a way a caricature of Emerson; but it is just as a caricature that he shows with startling vividness what Emersonianism runs to when divested of the common sense and strong character which were ballast to the master's shining optimism. Emerson saw the good and radiated spiritual light as few other men of his century did; but his blindness to the reality of evil was not of his strength, it was of his weakness. Hence it is that he often loses value for his admirers in proportion to their maturity and experience. He is pre-eminently the poet of religion and philosophy for the young; whereas men as they grow older are inclined to turn from him, in their more serious needs, to those sages who have supplemented insight with a firmer grasp of the whole of human nature.

That is undoubtedly true; nevertheless, as time passes the deficiencies of this brief flowering period of New England, of which Emerson was the perfect spokesman, may well be more and more condoned for its rarity and beauty. One of the wings of the spirit is hope, and nowhere is there to be found a purer hope than in the books of our New England sage; rather, it might be said that he went beyond hope to the assurance of present happiness. The world had never before seen anything quite of this kind, and may not see its like again.

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