« PreviousContinue »
them disregarded, that we should bestow something more than the mere incidental notice on them, which we have hitherto found occasion to indite. We are credibly informed that these essays find many readers and admirers amongst the youth of our universities. Here is a more special "moving cause" for our examination into this theme-the
had increased prodigiously. It was well for the generally-we feel that we too should not leave little ship, which rode to three anchors, that the holding-ground and our ground-tackle were so good, for, with all our precautions, and though nothing was left to hold wind but the bare lower masts and hull, we were in momentary fear of going adrift. We could hardly hear the church service performed, even on the lower deck, with the hatches down, so loud was the roaring of the" rationale" of what we may well call the Emergale.
About sunset, as usual, the wind gradually sank to a hoarse murmur, and at midnight we had fine weather once more, the stars shining as brilliantly as if within the tropics. Such sudden alterations form one of the marked peculiarities of the Falklands.
son mania. We shall discuss a few of the leading tenets of the En ersonian philosophy, as calmly and dispassionately as we may; and, if we give offence to the idolaters of this "transatlantic star," we can only say that truth is too serious a matter to be trifled with, and that we hold ourselves bound, in this instance, to speak out plainly. To plunge. then," in medias res,"
'Tis true, 't is pity; pity 'tis, 't is true!
But men in this age, ay, and women too, grow weary of truth and reason; sober sense offends, and unity annoys them; they long for a concert of harmonious discords to wake them from their drowsy lethargy. To the mental palate, thus diseased, novelty is the chief provocative. A new cook comes, and mingles poison with his sauces. What then? The flavor is pungent, and a moral evil may often be an intellectual pleasure.
The next morning, some time after the surveyors had departed, I was much surprised by observing a large column of smoke rising several miles to the southward. This, naturally enough, caused great excitement amongst us, as we knew our party had gone in an opposite direction. So strange an incident, in an uninhabited island, brought to my recollection Robinson Crusoe's discovery of the foot-print of a man on the desolate sea-shore. All manner of conjectures were hazarded, and truly some of them were wild enough. The next morning, as soon as I could spare them, I sent off four steady fellows, well armed; but nothing could they discover save the remains of a fire, a few singed feathers, and a very old-fashioned rusty hatchet without a handle. Imagining some ship-glare of such a treacherous marshlight as the Amerwrecked mariners might be near, we fired a blue light as soon as it was dark, and then a sky-rocket, but without any result. Who could the adventurers have been?
Some reflection of this nature is needed to reassure us, when we see men and women, whom we have believed sensible and amiable, hailing the
ican paradox-master before us, as though it were the advent of a new and brilliant star. Mingled considerations oppress us in treating such a theme ; on the one hand, our knowledge of the great mischief wrought in so many cases by this mighty phrasemonger would urge severest ridicule as the first of duties; on the other, there is really such an amount of showy cleverness, of external brilliancy, and, now and then, of even happy audacity, about this quasi-philosopher, that we feel we should not do him justice, nor have any chance of reducing him to his rightful level in the estimation of his
Two days more were sufficient to finish the Choiseul Sound, and early on the following morning we sent both our boats sounding down towards the entrance. At two o'clock we followed them in the vessel. About twelve miles from the mouth of the sound we perceived a splendid little harbor on the northern shore, where we anchored for the night, intending to leave the next morning; but unsettled and tempestuous weather detained us sev-rapt admirers, did we not testify our sense of those eral days, which, though a grievous infliction to us at the time, was pleasant in its results, as we had a most gallant and satisfactory campaign in our Wild Sports in this part of the Falklands.
From the English Review.
merits which, in some degree, excuse their adoration, and which cannot fail to strike the most prejudiced observer.
True it is, that when a man throws forth thoughts at random, as Emerson does, without the smallest regard to self-consistency or reality, he cannot fail,
Essays. By R. W. EMERSON. Nature, an Essay, here and there, to light on a quarter, or a half
Orations, &c., &c.
THE reputation enjoyed by that "transatlantic thinker," whose name we have set forth in the heading to these remarks, suggests matter for grave reflection. When we find an essayist of this description, who seems to be "a setter forth of new gods," belauded alike by tory and radical organs, by" Blackwood" and "the Westminster," by the friends of order and disorder-when we find his works reproduced in every possible form, and at the most tempting prices, proving the wide circulation they must enjoy amongst the English public
truth, or perhaps even on a whole one. Let a man possessed of a competent knowledge of counterpoint sit many hours at a piano, forcing the chords into endless combinations, now and then a happy musical idea can scarcely fail to flit across the air; small praise to the strummer! The man of higher taste and nobler imagination would far rather abide under the imputation of barrenness, than afflict his own soul and senses by the production of the false, the common, and the vile. There is a certain order of wealth that is near akin to poverty.
What shall we think of his philosophy, who can
seriously tell us, "With consistency a great soul slave; and Emerson the embodiment of self-glorihas simply nothing to do?" Order is divine-fication. The one commands us to kneel in the disorder is a blot, an error, an absurdity. How, dust before force, whether displayed for good or then, shall we esteem his wisdom, who boasts, "I unsettle all things. No facts are to me sacred; none are profane; I simply experiment, an endless seeker, with no past at my back?" Unconnectedly does this writer jerk forth his sayings; here is a perception, there a second, there a third; make the most of them! only ask not for sequence or completeness! And yet a myriad waves apart will make but one wide and desolate swamp; blend half of these in one, and a broad lake spreads forth, to mirror the azure skies, and refresh the eye with beauty.
Nevertheless, despite this vagueness and seem ing boundlessness of thought, we soon learn that the philosophy of Mr. Emerson (if we may so call it) is restricted within a system's narrow limits, as well as that of his neighbors; there is no logic in his form of utterance, certainly, but by and by we begin to perceive that he is trading on a small stock of positive ideas, though he casts them into so many incongruous shapes, and is at so little pains to reconcile one with the other. We find that this essayist has a science, a morality, a religion of his own, and that, with all his pretensions to indefinite catholicity, he tests all things (as from the infirmity of man's nature he must needs do) by this special standard.
The one cardinal error of Emerson is to take the unit for the mass, the individual for the universal, the ego for Deity. With all his contempt for those more sensible thinkers than himself, who have assented to a revealed scheme as truth absolute, and hold all other truths in subordination to that master-principle, he yet constantly, nay, continuously, assumes that human nature and the world are what he sees them to be, and can be nothing beyond this. He confounds relative with absolute existence. He seems to fancy the stars are not, until we behold them. Because to us, and for us, individually, things only are as we receive them, he conceives that fact and truth are dependent upon our perceptions. He regards man as a constantly inspired "revealer of the absolute;" we use, in a degree, his own cant, to render ourselves acceptable to any of his deluded admirers, who may possibly be found amongst the readers of this article. He fancies that what he calls "the oversoul," or universal reason, is potentially common to all, but actually possessed only by those who are inspired; and these he regards as the infallible teachers of humanity.
Nevertheless, let it not be supposed that the errors of Emerson are those of Carlyle; that the former is only an imitator and disciple of the lat
evil, as being in its essence divine; the other forbids us to set the most glorious actions, the most mighty works, above, or even on an equality with, our own private notions of them. Which of these creeds is more mischievous, it were difficult to say-the cant of either is disagreeable; but we should say that that of the idol-worshipper was the more odious, that of the self-idolater the more absurd. When the man, whom we know to place no faith in the bare existence of his God, echoes with rapturous and servile adulation the scriptural phrases of the Puritanic world, because emblematic to him of a real trust of some kind, which he is unable to share, we cannot but feel disgust; but we laugh outright at the comic self-sufficiency of that teacher who cries with a sober face and earnest voice, "If I see a trait, my children will see it after me, and, in course of time, all mankind— for my perception of it is as much a fact as the sun.'
But should we not, perhaps, go more steadily to work, and say a few words-a very few, on each of the first twelve essays in the volume before us, leaving "Nature," and " Addresses," and "Orations," for some future occasion, or rather altogether on one side? For, in truth, owing to the small number (already hinted at) of Mr. Emerson's real notions, (we will not say ideas,) the careful consideration of a single page, taken at random from his writings, would almost exhaust the theme. But let us proceed in order due.
First, then, our author discourses on History," in which discourse his aim is to set forth his one great principle, that each man must assume his superiority to present, past, and future, subject these to his own nature, and receive or reject them without the slightest regard for authority, or apparently any external testimony whatever. And here let us remark, how very acceptable such teaching must have been, must still be, to weak, silly, halfformed youths, and all other inferior natures, which have too much vanity to know true, honest pride, and would gladly think their own small "self" the epitome, nay, the circle, of the universe. Mr. Emerson says it is so. Hear him! (let us pass over the blasphemy of his motto!) "There is one mind common to all individual men." How
satisfactory! Nay, more: "He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate." Is this not sufficiently explicit? Know, then, "What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal Emerson, though less brilliant, and perhaps mind is a party to all that is or can be done; for less genial, certainly endowed with less descriptive this is the only and sovereign agent." Very inor dramatic power, is the better thinker of the twain; telligible, and very reasonable, no doubt; and, though here, if ever, is the place to say "bad is above all, conducive to modesty. But this is only the best!" Carlyle, however, inculcates the wor- the starting;" our American warms with his ship of genius; Emerson denounces all adoration theme: "A man," that is, each man, "is the save that of self. Carlyle is by nature a mental whole encyclopædia of facts." What a pleasing
conviction! Youth behind the counter, rejoice: | study you with reverence, and young ladies dote for thou art All, and the All is in thee. Thou upon you-poor innocents! Finally, "History hast been wont to consider thyself a learner: know that the teachers of all ages shall come and bow down themselves before thee! "The moon" is in "the turnip" at last. How intoxicating must be this draught of self-delusive nectar to the imagination of many an honest boy!
Mr. Emerson simply puts out of question the great facts, that human perceptions of the Infinite must be finite at best, and that two of the greatest, and highest, and deepest sources of our conviction are authority and reverence. Nine tenths of our material knowledge even we must take on trust we cannot prove all things for ourselves. How, then, should we be entitled to conclude that our individual perceptions of moral and religious truth must be higher, and clearer, and more worthy than | those of genius and of holiness? True it is, that to us, finally, our own sense of things must be the nearest and most important, though it follows not, | as Mr. Emerson assumes, that things are, because we think we see them. But, then, how is this sense formed which is to be our ultimate guide? The stanchest stickler for private judgment cannot reasonably affirm, that this should not be modified by those external aids which are here so unceremoniously rejected, or rather seemingly forgotten. Truth, Mr. Emerson, is not dependent upon perception. The great is great, the beautiful is beautiful, whether you or we see it or not. may exclude the glorious sunshine, by absolutely closing our eyes to its beams but we cannot force the daylight to fade because we blind ourselves.
shall walk incarnate in every wise and just man ;" in every self-trusting philosopher, in every Emerson, in fine, or Emersonian! And, when we have once ascertained this fact, why not shut up our books, and begin to live history ourselves? After all, we are we, and all is in us. There is no resisting such arguments. We cannot wonder that simple souls should be fascinated and overpowered. But we would say to all that have thus been led astray, (and would that our voice could reach them!) return to the paths of reason, and bathe your spirits in light; learn to revere! learn to learn!
Believe us, you shall not be "the less"
Let us move onward. The essay on SelfReliance" meets us next, and this is bolder still. " To believe your own thoughts, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—t -that is Genius." And happily this genius, we find, may be the lot of all, at least of every Emersonian; the fact is strongly urged upon them throughout these essays. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense!" But it will not do for us to be forever quoting these eternal strummings upon one false note. Our readers must already see that there is a unity of some kind in Mr. Emerson's multiplicities and contradictions.
But a very little more need be cited here: the precious fruits of this doctrine concerning individual infallibility must be seen to be estimated. Further on, then, we read: "No law can be sacred to me but that of my own nature good or bad are but names, very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it." A convenient doctrine, verily ! We are ready to give Mr. Emerson credit for the best possible in
"Why should we make account of time, or of magnitude, or of form?-the soul knows them not!" Really! but the soul does know them; and if yours is ignorant, good "essayist," confined to the contemplation of your own ego, be assured that you are nothing but an isolated straw, driven to and fro by the breeze, without any fixed place intentions; but perhaps his admirers will be disposed the wide world of spirits! History is, indeed, only of interest in as far as it speaks to the soul; but, if it does not speak to it, it follows not that history is barren, but more probably, that the soul is shallow, and "dead in life."
to admit that such teaching is not quite safe.
We find it difficult to say, how infinitely petty this self-idolatry appears to us, as manifested in its fear of all influences from without. Let us be ourselves! Let us live for whim, if we are only we! It were endless to comment on all the self-con- Let us not be swayed by fact or truth! Let us tradictions of this writer; but it is amusing to find isolate our souls at any risk; and, then, we must one who refers all things back to the individual be original, and, being infallible, must grow divine. ego, assuming that the human mind could not de- And are there thousands of good people who have vise the form of a cherub, nor of a scroll to abut swallowed all this? Why do not they remember, a tower, until it had seen some cloud or snowdrift, that while they love God and man aright, nothing suggestive of these forms. The combinations of can deprive them of their individuality? Influenced the imagination are endless; they may, they will, they must indeed be, whether they like it or no, by find their counterparts in nature; but they need a thousand foreign causes. They cannot grow up not be stolen from it, though little minds will al-"all alone," and have a world to themselves! It is ways conceive them so to be.
very hard, certainly; but God will guide us and The atheism of the writer peeps out pretty control us; and even our fellow-creatures will sway broadly, where he commends the "Prometheus us and form us, and in no slight degree govern us, Bound," as emblematic of man's natural oppo- however stern may be our resolve of independence. sition to pure Theism, "his self-defence against" Be a non-conformist!" cries Mr. Emerson: "so this untruth, 99 66 a discontent with the believed fact, can you alone be great!" Alas! we may protest that a God exists." Very pretty, Mr. Emerson; on one or two special points; but, if we mean to very pretty, indeed; and well-meaning young men live with our fellow-men, we must conform in all
limity, knowing the glorious self-sacrifice of its originators, can we attain to this Voltairean audacity?) what must remain for us? Nothing but to love, tremble, and adore!
We will not waste words on Mr. Emerson's most monstrous hypothesis, that "the Everlasting Son" proclaimed only the Godhead of all humanity when he announced his own. He must be a narrow-minded fanatic indeed to his own vain and silly creed, who can persist in such an error as this But Mr. Emerson's self-sufficiency never deserts him. "Men's creeds," he says, are a disease of the intellect." He has said it! We had better let the subject rest, or this profound teacher will annihilate our simple faith.
important particulars, or we shall find ourselves | tempests must assault in vain, lofty as the highest outlaws indeed. aspirations of the soul, yet broad and plain as truth. After a strong fling on the part of our philosophic | Unless we chose to believe our Lord and his aposfriend at conformity and consistency," which tles (may we dare to write the word?) impostors, he dooms as "ridiculous," and of which he de- and the whole sacred volume one comprehensive voutly hopes to have heard the last, we have much | falsehood, (and how, feeling its holiness, its submore repetition, and then some inflated pantheism or atheism—we prefer the plainer phrase. Much is prated respecting “Instinct” and “Intuition," on which it would be a pity to waste time and good paper. All things are to be wrought, not for the sake of good, absolute good, but to please the 66 ego." We will not waste more words on this folly. Then prayers are denounced; all prayers, at least, save action; they are "a disease of will." Man himself is God, or at least the purest embodiment of the "over-soul." Prayer, therefore, is 66 meanness," nay, absurdity. "It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness." That is, it supposes man and God to be two, whereas they are only one. Sancta simplicitas!" in people, who would stare at you grievously af- And now the "teacher" digresses, and descends fronted, and would even have a right to be so, if little to anathematize "travelling." It is, he you called them no Christians, and yet who admire informs us, " a fool's paradise." "I seek the Vatthis blasphemous rubbish. Ah, poor Emerson!ican;" "I affect to be intoxicated," &c., “but I can you believe this sad twaddle? or do you not happily vindicate here that character for inconsistency of which you are so proud? Have you really never had occasion to pray for a child, or wife, or for yourself? If not, how very great, or (in strictest confidence) how very small, your soul must be! Are you really fearful, in your vanity, to acknowledge the Almighty providence above you, of which you are the unwilling servant, nay, the slave? For
Blindly the wicked work the will of Heaven!
am not intoxicated." We can well believe it. But are we really compelled to accept your standard, friend, because "a fact perceived by you becomes of necessity one for all ages?" If so, we wish you would cultivate more pleasant perceptions, and, on mature reflection, consent to think better even of travelling.
We have some more rather clever though paradoxical talk respecting society's never advancing, but we cannot pause to examine it; it is one of those few approaches to a half truth which this writer sometimes stumbles on, perhaps against his will.
Not that we would believe you wicked; far from it! we think a human being could scarcely write Next, he treats of "Compensation;" his reprowith such weak audacity who realized his own the-bation of a certain clergyman and his congregation ories. You must be better than you imagine for. is highly comic. The doctrine complained of is, The life of man is a life of grace; grace created, the belief of mankind that another world is needed redeemed, sustains him. Didst thou make thyself, to set right the inequalities of this. Of course, or thy world? Are not the evidences of infinite there is compensation even here; in a certain sense, design around thee? Tell us not of an antiquated and in a degree, the good may be said to be the argument, when we utter the revelation of the happy, and the evil the unhappy on our earth; but human heart. Individuality is essential to every there is such a thing as callous triumphant sensuparticle, to every form, in creation; a thing that is ality, or as virtuous woe. Good hearts do break not individual is nothing. We may cheat ourselves sometimes; bad hearts do rejoice, after their kind, with words, if we think fit; but a GOD who could up to the very hour of their departure. Who has at love, who did not guide, who would not keep not seen instances in his own individual experience? us, if we sought him, who did not, in fine, hear We will not follow Mr. Emerson's "arguments" prayer, were no God at all, were nothing better on this head. We advance to another theme. When than a nonentity. Either nature is divine and self- he tells us, then, the true doctrine of Omnipresence created, or there is One Supreme who permeates is, that God reäppears with all his parts in every the visible universe, but to whom that universe is moss and cobweb, we can only repeat our former but as a viewless speck in a boundless ocean of query, Can the man, who gives utterance to such glory. And to this All-Infinite nothing can be wholesale rubbish, place any confidence in it himgreat, nothing small; he hears, he loves the hum- self? We trow not. blest child of clay. But since, in truth, the human In this essay there are, however, some striking intellect might sink in the contemplation of this ideas, some few happy images, some self-evident, amazing mystery, God has become visible in man, indeed, and very harmless truths, which are, incarnate in the Lord Christ Jesus. This revela- nevertheless, utterances of the honest human untion stands on a pinnacle, which all storms and derstanding. The whole is one of those "talkifi
cations" which make us hope that the man is better are not quite sure where he ultimately settles. than his "philosophy."
Next, "Spiritual Laws" come on the tapis, and are discussed in the former strain; we find less and less of novel matter or treatment to record. Self-self-self-is the eternal cry, though it finds utterance in many illustrations, some happy and some unhappy. We do not altogether dislike a bold passage towards the conclusion, and, by way of fair play, we will quote it: "Let the great soul, incarnated in some woman's form, poor, and sad, and single, in some Doll or Jane, go out to service, and sweep chambers and scour floors, and its effulgent daybeams cannot be muffled or hid; but to sweep and scour will instantly appear supreme and beautiful actions, the top and radiance of human life, and all people will get mops and brooms, until, lo, suddenly the great soul has enshrined itself in some other form, and done some other deed, and that is now the flower and head of all living nature." There is truth in this, despite the grotesque exaggeration; how it agrees with the remainder of Mr. Emerson's system rests not with us to explain. It might have been Carlyle's.
There is all the difference in the world betwixt an alliance founded not only on mutual esteem, but also on mutual assurance of active and sincere regard, and a mere literary or æsthetic sympathy, which seems to be what this author aims at as his ideal of true friendship. These sympathies of taste or of imagination may be very pleasant things in their way, and are so; they are like some beautiful forest-glade which we chance to encounter on our pilgrimage, where we rest for the noon-tide hour, but whence we start again with only a momentary regret; they make no deep impression on the heart. Compared with the substance of true friendship, they are only shadows, however fresh and green, and "kindly." When sympathy unites men on higher themes than those commanding a mere literary interest, (such a theme, for instance, as religion,) where both feel themselves working for a great good, the benefit of their fellow-men, or the glory of God, this communion of thought and feeling approaches the nature of true friendship, and, under favorable circumstances, may easily ripen into that noble bond. But we must not allow ourselves to be longer detained by Mr. Emerson's transcendental speculations. Some part of what he says on "Prudence" seems sufficiently prudent, as far as we can make out a definite intention; and, indeed, there are various happy passages in this little essay which might repay perusal. Prudence, we may venture to remark, is little known to Mr. Emerson, though he discourses so learnedly on the theme. Were he gifted with that prudence, of which modesty seems an essential element, he would scarcely have perpetrated the majority of the essays before us, and we should therefore not have had to hold him up as a sad warning against the very error he condemns (Imprudence) —
To point his moral, and adorn his tale.
Now comes a paper on "Love," which we rather like; but after an eloquent passage about lovers, which has some poetry in it, and much else that may, perhaps, by courtesy be counted" very clever," and to which we are anxious, as opponents, to give all due credit, the old troublesome notions show themselves, and suggestions are made that we should only love for the sake of what we get for self; that "our affections are but tents of a night," &c. But we will not pause for further cavils here, however just. We quote one pleasing passage, which recalls, as we fancy, something either in Washington Irving, or in Bulwer's "Eugene Aram," that book so striking and so artistic, despite its partial immorality. rude village-boy teazes the girls about the school-" Heroism" is, of course, another variation of the house door; but to-day he comes running into the entry, and meets one fair child arranging her satchel; he holds her books, to help her, and instantly it seems to him as if she removed herself from him infinitely, and was a sacred precinct. Among the throng of girls he runs rudely enough, but one alone distances him; and these two little neighbors, that were so close just now, have learnt to respect each other's personality." Oh! Mr. Emerson, if you would more frequently condescend to observe, and give up aspiring to teach! Be assured, nobody listens to your philosophic twaddle, nobody at least who has a mind, worthy of the name an independent intellect, such as you admire. But let us not be too crabbed over this
old strain," be thyself, and therefore all that is wonderful and perfect!" It is chiefly remarkable for its characteristic praises of "Beaumont and Fletcher," whose flashy, noisy vanities, and pompous boastings, placed in the mouths of their constantly contemptible and wonderfully inconsistent heroes and heroines, have evidently far more attraction for Mr. Emerson's fancy than the calm, quiet greatness of Shakspeare's men and women, who rarely deal in these grandiose protestations— characters such as the calm pagan Brutus," seduced to ill, indeed, but noble in his fall; or the cheerful Christian hero, "Henry the Fifth," so truly great in all things, and therefore not ashamed of kneeling to his God, and ascribing all glory to Him only.
We have some pleasant glimpses of the nature of "mob-sway" in this paper, calculated to inspire us with no little gratitude that universal suffrage is not yet established among ourselves; that the monster many are not supreme, that the sober middle classes and "gallant" upper classes retain their due influence. Now follows an essay on "the