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"Unless our philosophy hears the cock crow in every farm-yard within our horizon, it is belated. That sound commonly reminds us that we are growing rusty and antique in our employments and habits of thought. There is something suggested by it that is a newer testament, -the gospel according to this moment. It is an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, a brag for all the world-healthiness as of a spring burst forth. The merit of this bird's strain is its freedom from all plaintiveness. The singer can easily move us to tears or to laughter; but where is he who can excite in us a pure morning joy?"-THOREAU.
IN Emerson we have a notable contradiction
of the adage which excepts the prophet from honour in his own country. His reputation was home-made and jealously home-guarded. Almost from the start of his career his kinsmen of Boston and New England heard him gladly; and his fame spread thence slowly and surely over the whole continent. In the lament which followed his death voices from its remotest states joined as over the loss of a great national genius; and even while he lived, his little village of Concord had become to the best of his countrymen, far and near, a place of pilgrimage and revered memory, such as Grasmere is to us of England, or Weimar to the pious German. We may find reason for his ready acceptance by his neighbours in the fact that in him the new thought and aspiration which was quickening the intellectual life of New England found its boldest and intensest expression; while at the same time the charm and magnetism of his personality
helped him to gain an attentive hearing. But the wider national recognition which he gradually won showed that he had more than a local and temporary value. It is, no doubt, a partial explanation of this extended popularity that his work had a distinctively national flavour, a fresh native excellence exhibited for the first time in American literature. It was, as some critic has remarked, the first genuine and unique product of the American soil. It had the American expansiveness, strength, and confidence; it proclaimed a gospel of hope and expectancy which met the mood of his thriving and elated countrymen. This, however, is only part of the secret of his acceptance. The steady growth of his fame in England-indeed, we may say, in Europeshowed that he had the independent worth of a great writer who appealed to generous minds everywhere. His countrymen soon found that, strikingly national in spirit as his work was, it had besides the rare and eminent qualities which gave it rank with the classics of Europe.
It is indeed no exaggeration to say that Emerson became a classic during his lifetime, in the Old as well as the New World. Time has only made more assured his place amongst the great writers of the West. It is a sufficient indication of his hold upon our minds here, that we find a cautious critic like Matthew Arnold, in one of his most cautious moods a critic, too, whose sobriety stands in such marked contrast to Emerson's exultant optimism-assigning to the sage of Concord a niche beside the imperial philosopher, Marcus Aurelius.
We need to know very little of the personality of Emerson to feel its fascination. But striking and attractive as it was to those who encountered him, and cannot fail to be to those who realise what manner of man he was in the flesh, there are few writers of his kind whose work is so impersonal as his, so slightly coloured by personal reference and self-revelation. This impersonal quality is, as
Mr. Cabot has remarked in his recent Memoir, a characteristic of Emerson's journals and friendliest letters, no less than of his published writings. It was a trait of the man as well as the writer; he never became really intimate-heart to heart-with any of his friends, nor even with his wife. He did not know how to be familiar. He was aware of his insufficiency in this respect, and makes several confessions in his letters of his unsociability and shyness: "None knows better than I, more's the pity, the gloomy inhospitality of the man; the want of power to meet and unite with even those whom he loves 'in his flinty way.'... Diffident, shy, proud, having settled it long ago in his mind that he and society must always be nothing to each other." But his reticence in his writings concerning his own feelings and experiences was deliberate; it was the result of studied effort to strain away from what he wrote all that was of merely private and casual interest, and to leave only what had general purport. He is never garrulous, never speaks out of the heat and impulse of the moment; but is habitually self-possessed, subjecting first thoughts and inclinations to calm scrutiny and reflection. It was his constant aim, dictated by a conviction which finds frequent expression in his books, to suppress the personal equation, and to utter clear of accidental implications the revelations of that Universal Mind whose organ he believed himself and all other men to be.
On this account Emerson's writings do not call for that biographical interpretation and commentary which many authors require; they do not throw us back upon the man as a clue to their full meaning and comprehension. So that were the slender record of Emerson's life less widely known than it is, it would be unnecessary in a short introduction to his writings to trace his fortunes and development-notwithstanding that Mr. Cabot's judicious Memoir enables us to do so in a manner hitherto impossible. By its help we might follow, with new minuteness, the steady growth of his character and the formation of those views which afterwards became the essence
of his teaching. We might sketch a more detailed portrait of the slim, delicate, and sensitive boy, who found his highest pleasures in miscellaneous reading, declamation, and playful rhyming; of the courtly-mannered, retiring, yet self-reliant youth (of whom it is said that no one ever saw him run), of almost precocious powers, neglectful of his college tasks to discipline himself in literary expression, given to desultory reading of the Elizabethans, of the new poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and their contemporaries, and of the English Reviews. But we must pass by this and so much else upon which Mr. Cabot throws fresh light, and stop only to note briefly what will help us to see Emerson in true perspective, related to his own time and to that ever interesting movement of which he was the chief figure, the Transcendental Movement of New England.
Emerson was born (the 25th May, 1803, is the date of his birth) at an auspicious moment, and grew up in circumstances highly favourable to the natural development of his genius. What he owed to his parentage-to the eight generations of New England preachers whose virtues he epitomised-has often been stated, and needs but bare mention here. If, as Emerson says, every man is a quotation from all his ancestors," it is certain that in his case the quotation was as pithy as Nature could make it. The pre-eminent qualities of these Puritan progenitors, their good sense, sturdy conscience, and courage were conjoined in him with a grace, refinement, and quick insight which he probably derived from the female side. It was by the fine admixture with the Puritan strength, fidelity, and religious fervour, of a Greek sensibility and restraint (recalling Milton to us), that Emerson, in spite of his dangerous and almost absolute reliance on instinct and spontaneity, was kept so sane and free from the exaggerations which characterised his lesser contemporaries.
Yet we must not forget how much the healthy influences of early life conduced to the happy unfolding of Emerson's richly-endowed nature. His home surroundings