Complete Works of RWE VII - Society and Solitude

Chapter I Society and Solitude

SEYD melted the days like cups of pearl,
Served high and low, the lord and churl,
Loved harebells nodding on a rock,
A cabin hung with curling smoke,
Ring of axe or hum of wheel
Or gleam which use can paint on steel,
And huts and tents; nor loved he less
Stately lords in palaces,
Princely women hard to please,
Fenced by form and ceremony,
Decked by courtly rites and dress
And etiquette of gentilesse.
But when the mate of the snow and wind,
He left each civil scale behind:
Him wood-gods fed with honey wild
And of his memory beguiled.
In caves and hollow trees he crept
And near the wolf and panther slept.
He stood before the tumbling main
With joy too tense for sober brain;
He shared the life of the element,
The tie of blood and home was rent:
As if in him the welkin walked,
The winds took flesh, the mountains talked,
And he the bard, a crystal soul,
Sphered and concentric with the whole.

That each should in his house abide,
Therefore was the world so wide.

I FELL in with a humorist on my travels, who had in his chamber a cast of the Rondanini Medusa, and who assured me that the name which that fine work of art bore in the catalogues was a misnomer, as he was convinced that the sculptor who carved it intended it for Memory, the mother of the Muses.’ In the conversation that followed, my new friend made some extraordinary confessions. ” Do you not see,” he said, ” the penalty of learning, and that each of these scholars whom you have met at S-, though he were to be the last man, would, like the executioner in Hood’s poem, guillotine the last but one?” He added many lively remarks, but his evident earnestness engaged my attention, and in the weeks that followed we became better acquainted. He had good abilities, a genial temper and no vices ; but he had one defect, – he could not speak in the tone of the people. There was some paralysis on his will, such that when he met men on common terms he spoke weakly and from the point, like a flighty girl. His consciousness of the fault made it worse. He envied every drover and lumberman in the tavern their manly speech. He coveted Mirabeau’s don terrible de la familiarite, believing that he whose sympathy goes lowest is the man from whom kings have the most to fear. For himself he declared that he could not get enough alone to write a letter to a friend. He left the city; he hid himself in pastures. The solitary river was not solitary enough ; the sun and moon put him out. When he bought a house, the first thing he did was to plant trees. He could not enough conceal himself. Set a hedge here ; set oaks there, – trees behind trees ; above all, set evergreens, for they will keep a secret all the year round. The most agreeable compliment you could pay him was to imply that you had not observed him in a house or a street where you had met him. Whilst he suffered at being seen where he was, he consoled himself with the delicious thought of the inconceivable number of places where he was not. All he wished of his tailor was to provide that sober mean of color and cut which would never detain the eye for a moment. He went to Vienna, to Smyrna, to London. In all the variety of costumes, a carnival, a kaleidoscope of clothes, to his horror he could never discover a man in the street who wore anything like his own dress. He would have given his soul for the ring of Gyges. His dismay at his visibility had blunted the fears of mortality. “Do you think,”he said, “I am in such great terror of being shot, – I, who am only waiting to shuffle off my corporeal jacket to slip away into the back stars, and put diameters of the solar system and sidereal orbits between me and all souls, – there to wear out ages in solitude, and forget memory itself, if it be possible?” He had a remorse running to despair of his social gaucheries, and walked miles and miles to get the twitchings out of his face, the starts and shrugs out of his arms and shoulders. God may forgive sins, he said, but awkwardness has no forgiveness in heaven or earth. He admired in Newton not so much his theory of the moon as his letter to Collins, in which he forbade him to insert his name with the solution of the problem in the Philosophical Transactions : “It would perhaps increase my acquaintance, the thing which I chiefly study to decline.”

These conversations led me somewhat later to the knowledge of similar cases, and to the discovery that they are not of very infrequent occurrence. Few substances are found pure in nature. Those constitutions which can bear in open day the rough dealing of the world must be of that mean and average structure such as iron and salt, atmospheric air and water. But there are metals, like potassium and sodium, which, to be kept pure, must be kept under naphtha. Such are the talents determined on some specialty, which a culminating civilization fosters in the heart of great cities and in royal chambers. Nature protects her own work. To the culture of the world an Archimedes, a Newton is indispensable ; so she guards them by a certain aridity. If these had been good fellows, fond of dancing, port and clubs, we should have had no Theory of the Sphere and no Principia. They had that necessity of isolation which genius feels. Each must stand on his glass tripod if he would keep his electricity. Even Swedenborg, whose theory of the universe is based on affection, and who reprobates to weariness the danger and vice of pure intellect, is constrained to make an extraordinary exception: “There are also angels who do not live consociated, but separate, house and house ; these dwell in the midst of heaven, because they are the best of angels.”

We have known many fine geniuses with that imperfection that they cannot do anything useful, not so much as write one clean sentence. ‘T is worse, and tragic, that no man is fit for society who has fine traits. At a distance he is admired, but bring him hand to hand, he is a cripple.’ One protects himself by solitude, and one by courtesy, and one by an acid, worldly manner, – each concealing how he can the thinness of his skin and his incapacity for strict association. But there is no remedy that can reach the heart of the disease but either habits of self-reliance that should go in practice to making the man independent of the human race, or else a religion of love. Now he hardly seems entitled to marry; for how can he protect a woman, who cannot protect himself?

We pray to be conventional. But the wary Heaven takes care you shall not be, if there is anything good in you. Dante was very bad company, and was never invited to dinner. Michel Angelo had a sad, sour time of it. The ministers of beauty are rarely beautiful in coaches and saloons. Columbus discovered no isle or key so lonely as himself. Yet each of these potentates saw well the reason of his exclusion. Solitary was he? Why, yes ; but his society was limited only by the amount of brain nature appropriated in that age to carry on the government of the world. “If I stay,” said Dante, when there was question of going to Rome, “who will go? and if I go, who will stay?”

But the necessity of solitude is deeper than we have said, and is organic.’ I have seen many a philosopher whose world is large enough for only one person. He affects to be a good companion ; but we are still surprising his secret, that he means and needs to impose his system on all the rest. The determination of each is from all the others, like that of each tree up into free space. ‘T is no wonder, when each has his whole head, our societies should be so small. Like President Tyler, our party falls from us every day, and we must ride in a sulky at last. Dear heart ! take it sadly home to thee, – there is no cooperation. We begin with friendships, and all our youth is a reconnoitring and recruiting of the holy fraternity they shall combine for the salvation of men. But so the remoter stars seem a nebula of united light, yet there is no group which a telescope will not resolve ; and the dearest friends are separated by impassable gulfs. The cooperation is involuntary, and is put upon us by the Genius of Life, who reserves this as a part of his prerogative. ‘T is fine for us to talk ; we sit and muse and are serene and complete; but the moment we meet with any-body, each becomes a fraction.’

Though the stuff of tragedy and of romances is in a moral union of two superior persons whose confidence in each other for long years, out of sight and in sight, and against all appearances, is at last justified by victorious proof of probity to gods and men, causing joyful emotions, tears and glory, – though there be for heroes this moral union, yet they too are as far off as ever from an intellectual union, and the moral union is for comparatively low and external purposes, like the cooperation of a ship’s company or of a fire-club. But how insular and pathetically solitary are all the people we know ! Nor dare they tell what they think of each other when they meet in the street. We have a fine right, to be sure, to taunt men of the world with superficial and treacherous courtesies !

Such is the tragic necessity which strict science finds underneath our domestic and neighborly life, irresistibly driving each adult soul as with whips into the desert, and making our warm covenants sentimental and momentary.  We must infer that the ends of thought were peremptory, if they were to be secured at such ruinous cost. They are deeper than can be told, and belong to the immensities and eternities. They reach down to that depth where society itself originates and disappears; where the question is, Which is first, man or men? where the individual is lost in his source.

But this banishment to the rocks and echoes no metaphysics can make right or tolerable. This result is so against nature, such a half-view, that it must be corrected by a common sense and experience. “A man is born by the side of his father, and there he remains.” A man must be clothed with society, or we shall feel a certain bareness and poverty, as of a displaced and unfurnished member. He is to be dressed in arts and institutions, as well as in body garments.’ Now and then a man exquisitely made can live alone, and must; but coop up most men and you undo them. “The king lived and ate in his hall with men, and understood men,” said Selden. When a young barrister said to the late Mr. Mason, “I keep my chamber to read law,” -” Read law! ” replied the veteran,” ‘t is in the court-room you must read law.” Nor is the rule otherwise for literature. If you would learn to write, ‘t is in the street you must learn it. Both for the vehicle and for the aims of fine arts you must frequent the public square. The people, and not the college, is the writer’s home. A scholar is a candle which the love and desire of all men will light. Never his lands or his rents, but the power to charm the disguised soul that sits veiled under this bearded and that rosy visage is his rent and ration. His products are as needful as those of the baker or the weaver. Society cannot do without cultivated men. As soon as the first wants are satisfied, the higher wants become imperative.’

‘T is hard to mesmerize ourselves, to whip our own top; but through sympathy we are capable of energy and endurance. Concert fires people to a certain fury of performance they can rarely reach alone. Here is the use of society: it is so easy with the great to be great; so easy to come up to an existing standard; – as easy as it is to the lover to swim to his maiden through waves so grim before. The benefits of affection are immense; and the one event which never loses its romance is the encounter with superior persons on terms allowing the happiest intercourse.

It by no means follows that we are not fit for society, because soirees are tedious and because the soiree finds us tedious. A backwoodsman, who had been sent to the university, told me that when he heard the best-bred young men at the law-school talk together, he reckoned him-self a boor; but whenever he caught them apart, and had one to himself alone, then they were the boors and he the better man. And if we recall the rare hours when we encountered the best persons, we then found ourselves, and then first society seemed to exist. That was society, though in the transom of a brig or on the Florida Keys.’

A cold sluggish blood thinks it has not facts enough to the purpose, and must decline its turn in the conversation. But they who speak have no more,- have less. ‘T is not new facts that avail, but the heat to dissolve everybody’s facts. Heat puts you in right relation with magazines of facts. The capital defect of cold, arid natures is the want of animal spirits. They seem a power incredible, as if God should raise the dead. The recluse witnesses what others perform by their aid, with a kind of fear. It is as much out of his possibility as the prowess of Coeur-de-Lion, or an Irishman’s day’s work on the railroad. ‘T is said the present and the future are always rivals. Animal spirits constitute the power of the present, and their feats are like the structure of a pyramid. Their result is a lord, a general, or a boon companion. Before these what a base mendicant is Memory with his leathern badge ! But this genial heat is latent in all constitutions, and is disengaged only by the friction of society. As Bacon said of manners, ” To obtain them, it only needs not to despise them,” so we say of animal spirits that they are the spontaneous product of health and of a social habit. “For behavior, men learn it, as they take diseases, one of another.”

But the people are to be taken in very small doses. If solitude is proud, so is society vulgar. In society, high advantages are set down to the individual as disqualifications. We sink as easily as we rise, through sympathy. So many men whom I know are degraded by their sympathies ; their native aims being high enough, but their relation all too tender to the gross people about them. Men cannot afford to live together on their merits, and they adjust themselves by their demerits, – by their love of gossip, or by sheer tolerance and animal good nature. They untune and dissipate the brave aspirant.’

The remedy is to reinforce each of these moods from the other. Conversation will not corrupt us if we come to the assembly in our own garb and speech and with the energy of health to select what is ours and reject what is not. Society we must have; but let it be society, and not exchanging news or eating from the same dish. Is it society to sit in one of your chairs ? I cannot go to the houses of my nearest relatives, because I do not wish to be alone. Society exists by chemical affinity, and not other-wise.

Put any company of people together with freedom for conversation, and a rapid self-distribution takes place into sets and pairs. The best are accused of exclusiveness. It would be more true to say they separate as oil from water, as children from old people, without love or hatred in the matter, each seeking his like ; and any interference with the affinities would produce constraint and suffocation. All conversation is a magnetic experiment. I know that my friend can talk eloquently ; you know that he cannot articulate a sentence : we have seen him in different company. Assort your party, or invite none. Put Stubbs and Coleridge, Quintilian and Aunt Miriam, into pairs, and you make them all wretched. ‘T is an extempore Sing-Sing built in a parlor. Leave them to seek their own mates, and they will be as merry as sparrows.

A higher civility will reestablish in our customs a certain reverence which we have lost. What to do with these brisk young men who break through all fences, and make themselves at home in every house? I find out in an instant if my companion does not want me, and ropes cannot hold me when my welcome is gone. One would think that the affinities would pronounce themselves with a surer reciprocity.’

Here again, as so often, nature delights to put us between extreme antagonisms, and our safety is in the skill with which we keep the diagonal line. Solitude is impracticable, and society fatal. We must keep our head in the one and our hands in the other. The conditions are met, if we keep our independence, yet do not lose our sympathy. These wonderful horses need to be driven by fine hands. We require such a solitude as shall hold us to its revelations when we are in the street and in palaces; for most men are cowed in society, and say good things to you in private, but will not stand to them in public. But let us not be the victims of words. Society and solitude are deceptive names. It is not the circumstance of seeing more or fewer people, but the readiness of sympathy, that imports ; and a sound mind will derive its principles from insight, with ever a purer ascent to the sufficient and absolute right, and will accept society as the natural element in which they are to be applied.’

Complete Works of RWE VIII - Letters and Social Aims

Social Aims

Who does not delight in fine manners? Their charm cannot be predicted or overstated. ‘T is perpetual promise of more than can be fulfilled. It is music and sculpture and picture to many who do not pretend to appreciation of those arts. It is even true that grace is more beautiful than beauty. Yet how impossible to overcome the obstacle of an unlucky temperament, and acquire good manners, unless by living with the well-bred from the start; and this makes the value of wise forethought to give ourselves and our children as much as possible the habit of cultivated society.

‘T is an inestimable hint that I owe to a few persons of fine manners, that they make behavior the very first sign of force, – behavior, and not performance, or talent, or, much less, wealth. Whilst almost everybody has a supplicating eye turned on events and things and other persons, a few natures are central and forever unfold, and these alone charm us. He whose word or deed you cannot predict, who answers you without any supplication in his eye, who draws his determination from within, and draws it instantly, – that man rules.

The staple figure in novels is the man of aplomb, who sits, among the young aspirants and desperates, quite sure and compact, and, never sharing their affections or debilities, hurls his word like a bullet when occasion requires, knows his way, and carries his points. They may scream or applaud, he is never engaged or heated. Napoleon is the type of this class in modern history; Byron’s heroes in poetry. But we, for the most part, are all drawn into the charivari; we chide, lament, cavil, and recriminate.

I think Hans Andersen’s story of the cobweb cloth woven so fine that it was invisible, -woven for the king’s garment, – must mean manners, which do really clothe a princely nature. Such a one can well go in a blanket, if he would. In the gymnasium or on the sea-beach his superiority does not leave him. But he who has not this fine garment of behavior is studious of dress, and then not less of house and furniture and pictures and gardens, in all which he hopes to lie perdu, and not be exposed.
“Manners are stronger than laws.” Their vast convenience I must always admire. The perfect defence and isolation which they effect makes an insuperable protection. Though the person so clothed wrestle with you, or swim with you, lodge in the same chamber, eat at the same table, he is yet a thousand miles off, and can at any moment finish with you. Manners seem to say, You are you, and I am I. In the most delicate natures, fine temperament and culture build this impassable wall. Balzac finely said : “Kings themselves cannot force the exquisite politeness of distance to capitulate, hid behind its shield of bronze.”

Nature values manners. See how she has prepared for them. Who teaches manners of majesty, of frankness, of grace, of humility, – who but the adoring aunts and cousins that surround a young child? The babe meets such courting and flattery as only kings receive when adult; and, trying experiments, and at perfect leisure with these posture-masters and flatterers all day, he throws himself into all the attitudes that correspond to theirs. Are they humble? he is composed. Are they eager? he is nonchalant. Are they encroaching? he is dignified and inexorable. And this scene is daily repeated in hovels as well as in high houses.

Nature is the best posture-master. An awkward man is graceful when asleep, or when bard at work, or agreeably amused. The attitudes of children are gentle, persuasive, royal, in their games and in their house-talk and in the street, before they have learned to cringe. ‘T is impossible but thought disposes the limbs and the walk, and is masterly or secondary. No art can contravene it, or conceal it. Give me a thought, and my hands and legs and voice and face will all go right. And we are awkward for want of thought. The inspiration is scanty, and does not arrive at the extremities.

It is a commonplace of romances to show the ungainly manners of the pedant who has lived too long in college. Intellectual men pass for vulgar, and are timid and heavy with the elegant. But, if the elegant are also intellectual, instantly the hesitating scholar is inspired, transformed, and exhibits the best style of manners. An intellectual man, though of feeble spirit, is instantly reinforced by being put into the company of scholars, and, to the surprise of everybody, becomes a lawgiver. We think a man unable and desponding. It is only that he is misplaced. Put him with new companions, and they will find in him excellent qualities, unsuspected accomplishments, and the joy of life. ‘T is a great point in a gallery, how you hang pictures; and not less in society, how you seat your party. The circumstance of circumstance is timing and placing. When a man meets his accurate mate, society begins, and life is delicious.

What happiness they give, – what ties they form! Whilst one man by his manners pins me to the wall, with another I walk among the stars. One man can, by his voice, lead the cheer of a regiment ; another will have no following. Nature made us all intelligent of these signs, for our safety and our happiness. Whilst certain faces are illumined with intelligence, decorated with invitation, others are marked with warnings : certain voices are hoarse and truculent ; sometimes they even bark. There is the same difference between heavy and genial manners as between the perceptions of octogenarians and those of young girls who see everything in the twinkling of an eye.

Manners are the revealers of secrets, the betrayers of any disproportion or want of symmetry in mind and character. It is the law of our constitution that every change in our experience instantly indicates itself on our countenance and carriage, as the lapse of time tells itself on the face of a clock. We may be too obtuse to read it, but the record is there. Some men may be obtuse to read it, but some men are not obtuse and do read it. In Borrow’s “Lavengro,” the gypsy instantly detects, by his companion’s face and behavior, that some good fortune has be-fallen him, and that he has money. We say, in these days, that credit is to be abolished in trade: is it? When a stranger comes to buy goods of you, do you not look in his face and answer according to what you read there ? Credit is to be abolished ?

Can’t you abolish faces and character, of which credit is the reflection ? As long as men are born babes they will live on credit for the first fourteen or eighteen years of their life. Every innocent man has in his countenance a promise to pay, and hence credit. Less credit will there be ? You are mistaken. There will always be more and more. Character must be trusted; and, just in proportion to the morality of a people, will be the expansion of the credit system.

There is even a little rule of prudence for the young experimenter which Dr. Franklin omitted to set down, yet which the youth may find useful,-Do not go to ask your debtor the payment of a debt on the day when you have no other resource. He will learn by your air and tone how it is with you, and will treat you as a beggar. But work and starve a little longer. Wait till your affairs go better, and you have other means at hand; you will then ask in a different tone, and he will treat your claim with entire respect.

Now, we all wish to be graceful, and do justice to ourselves by our manners; but youth in America is wont to be poor and hurried, not at ease, or not in society where high behavior could be taught. But the sentiment of honor and the wish to serve make all our pains superfluous. Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy. Self-command is the main elegance. “Keep cool, and you command everybody,” said St. Just ; and the wily old Talleyrand would still say, Surtout, messieurs, pas de zele,-“Above all, gentlemen, no heat.”

Why have you statues in your hall, but to teach you that, when the door-bell rings, you shall sit like them. “Eat at your table as you would eat at the table of the king,” said Confucius. It is an excellent custom of the Quakers, if only for a school of manners, – the silent prayer before meals. It has the effect to stop mirth, and introduce a moment of reflection. After the pause, all resume their usual intercourse from a vantage-ground. What a check to the violent manners which sometimes come to the table, – of wrath, and whining, and heat in trifles !

‘T is a rule of manners to avoid exaggeration. A lady loses as soon as she admires too easily and too much. In man or woman, the face and the person lose power when they are on the strain to express admiration. A man makes his inferiors his superiors by heat. Why need you, who are not a gossip, talk as a gossip, and tell eagerly what the neighbors or the journals say? State your opinion without apology. The attitude is the main point, assuring your companion that, come good news or come bad, you remain in good heart and good mind, which is the best news you can possibly communicate. Self-control is the rule. You have in you there a noisy, sensual savage which you are to keep down, and turn all his strength to beauty. For example, what a seneschal and detective is laughter! It seems to require several generations of education to train a squeaking or a shouting habit out of a man. Sometimes, when in almost all expressions the Choctaw and the slave have been worked out of him, a coarse nature still betrays itself in his contemptible squeals of joy. It is necessary for the purification of drawing-rooms, that these entertaining explosions should be under strict control. Lord Chesterfield had early made this discovery, for he says, “I am sure that since I had the use of my reason, no human being has ever heard me laugh.” I know that there go two to this game, and, in the presence of certain formidable wits, savage nature must sometimes rush out in some disorder.

To pass to an allied topic, one word or two in regard to dress, in which our civilization instantly shows itself. No nation is dressed with more good sense than ours. And everybody sees certain moral benefit in it. When the young European emigrant, after a summer’s labor, puts on for the first time a new coat, he puts on much more. His good and becoming clothes put him on thinking that he must behave like people who are so dressed ; and silently and steadily his behavior mends. But quite another class of our own youth, I should remind, of dress in general, that some people need it, and others need it not. Thus a king or a general does not need a fine coat, and a commanding person may save himself all solicitude on that point. There are always slovens in State Street or Wall Street, who are not less considered. If a man have manners and talent he may dress roughly .and carelessly. It is only when mind and character slumber that the dress can be seen. If the intellect were always awake, and every noble sentiment, the man might go in huckaback or mats, and his dress would be admired and imitated. Remember George Herbert’s maxim, “This coat with my discretion will be brave.” If, however, a man has not firm nerves, and has keen sensibility, it is perhaps a wise economy to go to a good shop and dress himself irreproachably. He can then dismiss all care from his mind, and may easily find that performance an addition of confidence, a fortification that turns the scale in social encounters, and allows him to go gayly into conversations where else he had been dry and embarrassed. I am not ignorant, – I have heard with admiring submission the experience of the lady who declared “that the sense of being perfectly well-dressed gives a feeling of inward tranquillity which religion is powerless to bestow.”

Thus much for manners : but we are not content with pantomime; we say this is only for the eyes. We want real relations of the mind and the heart; we want friendship; we want knowledge; we want virtue; a more inward existence to read the history of each other. Welfare requires one or two companions of intelligence, probity, and grace, to wear out life with, – persons with whom we can speak a few reasonable words every day, by whom we can measure ourselves, and who shall hold us fast to good sense and virtue ; and these we are always in search of. He must be inestimable to us to whom we can say what we cannot say to ourselves. Yet now and then we say things to our mates, or hear things from them, which seem to put it out of the power of the parties to be strangers again. “Either death or a friend,” is a Persian proverb. I suppose I give the experience of many when I give my own. A few times in my life it has happened to me to meet persons of so good a nature and so good breeding, that every topic was open and discussed without possibility of offence, – persons who could not be shocked. One of my friends said in speaking of certain associates, “There is not one of them but I can offend at any moment.” But to the company I am now considering, were no terrors, no vulgarity. All topics were broached, – life, love, marriage, sex, hatred, suicide, magic, theism, art, poetry, religion, myself, thyself, all selves, and whatever else, with a security and vivacity which belonged to the nobility of the parties and to their brave truth. The life of these persons was conducted in the same calm and affirmative manner as their discourse. Life with them was an experiment continually varied, full of results, full of grandeur, and by no means the hot and hurried business which passes in the world. The delight in good company, in pure, brilliant, social atmosphere ; the incomparable satisfaction of a society in which everything can be safely said, in which every member returns a true echo, in which a wise freedom, an ideal republic of sense, simplicity, knowledge, and thorough good-meaning abide, – doubles the value of life. It is this that justifies to each the jealousy with which the doors are kept. Do not look sourly at the set or the club which does not choose you. Every highly organized person knows the value of the social barriers, since the best society has often been spoiled to him by the intrusion of bad companions. He of all men would keep the right of choice sacred, and feel that the exclusions are in the interest of the admissions, though they happen at this moment to thwart his wishes.

The hunger for company is keen, but it must be discriminating, and must be economized. ‘T is a defect in our manners that they have not yet reached the prescribing a limit to visits. That every well-dressed lady or gentleman should be at liberty to exceed ten minutes in his or her call on serious people, shows a civilization still rude. A universal etiquette should fix an iron limit after which a moment should not be allowed without explicit leave granted on request of either the giver or receiver of the visit. There is inconvenience in such strictness, but vast inconvenience in the want of it. To trespass on a public servant is to trespass on a nation’s time. Yet presidents of the United States are afflicted by rude Western and Southern gossips (I hope it is only by them), until the gossip’s immeasurable legs are tired of sitting; then he strides out and the nation is relieved.

It is very certain that sincere and happy conversation doubles our powers; that, in the effort to unfold our thought to a friend, we make it clearer to ourselves, and surround it with illustrations that help and delight us. It may happen that each hears from the other a better wisdom than any one else will ever hear from either. But these ties are taken care of by Providence to each of us. A wise man once said to me that “all whom he knew, met ” :-meaning that he need not take pains to introduce the persons whom he valued to each other: they were sure to be drawn together as by gravitation. The soul of a man must be the servant of another. The true friend must have an attraction to whatever virtue is in us. Our chief want in life, – is it not somebody who can make us do what we can ? And we are easily great with the loved and honored associate. We come out of our eggshell existence and see the great dome arching over us; see the zenith above and the nadir under us.

Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel. It is to bring another out of his bad sense into your good sense. You are to be missionary and carrier of all that is good and noble. Virtues speak to virtues, vices to vices, – each to their own kind in the people with whom we deal. If you are suspiciously and dryly on your guard, so is he or she. If you rise to frankness and generosity, they will respect it now or later.

In this art of conversation, Woman, if not the queen and victor, is the lawgiver. If every one recalled his experiences, he might find the best in the speech of superior women, – which was better than song, and carried ingenuity, character, wise counsel, and affection, as easily as the wit with which it was adorned. They are not only wise themselves, they make us wise. No one can be a master in conversation who has not learned much from women; their presence and inspiration are essential to its success. Steele said of his mistress, that ” to have loved her was a liberal education.” Shenstone gave no bad account of this influence in his description of the French woman: “There is a quality in which no woman in the world can compete with her, – it is the power of intellectual irritation. She will draw wit out of a fool. She strikes with such address the chords of self-love, that she gives unexpected vigor and agility to fancy, and electrifies a body that appeared non-electric.” Coleridge esteems cultivated women as the depositaries and guardians of “English undefiled”; and Luther commends that accomplishment of “pure German speech” of his wife.

Madame de Stael, by the unanimous consent of all who knew her, was the most extraordinary converser that was known in her time, and it was a time full of eminent men and women; she knew all distinguished persons in letters or society, in England, Germany, and Italy, as well as in France, though she said, with characteristic nationality, ” Conversation, like talent, exists only in France.” Madame de Stael valued nothing but conversation. When they showed her the beautiful Lake Leman, she exclaimed, ” O for the gutter of the Rue de Bac !” the street in Paris in which her house stood. And she said one day, seriously, to M. Mole, ” If it were not for respect to human opinions, I would not open my window to see the Bay of Naples for the first time, whilst I would go five hundred leagues to talk with a man of genius whom I had not seen.” Ste. Beuve tells us of the privileged circle at Coppet, that, after making an excursion one day, the party returned in two coaches from Chambery to Aix, on the way to Coppet. The first coach had many rueful accidents to relate, – a terrific thunder-storm, shocking roads, and danger and gloom to the whole company. The party in the second coach, on arriving, heard this story with surprise;- of thunder-storm, of steeps, of mud, of danger, they knew nothing; no, they had forgotten earth, and breathed a purer air: such a conversation between Madame de Stael and Madame Recamier and Benjamin Constant and Schlegel! they were all in a state of delight. The intoxication of the conversation had made them insensible to all notice of weather or rough roads. Madame de Tesse said, “If I were Queen, I should command Madame de Stael to talk to me every day.” Conversation fills all gaps, supplies all deficiencies. What a good trait is that recorded of Madame de Maintenon, that, during dinner, the servant slipped to her side, ” Please, madame, one anecdote more, for there is no roast to-day.”

Politics, war, party, luxury, avarice, fashion, are all asses, with loaded panniers to serve the kitchen of Intellect, the king. There is nothing that does not pass into lever or weapon.

And yet there are trials enough of nerve and character, brave choices enough of taking the part of truth and of the oppressed against the oppressor, in privatest circles. A right speech is not well to be distinguished from action. Courage to ask questions ; courage to expose our ignorance. The great gain is, not to shine, not to conquer your companion, – then you learn nothing but conceit, – but to find a companion who knows what you do not; to tilt with him and be overthrown, horse and foot, with utter destruction of all your logic and learning. There is a defeat that is useful. Then you can see the real and the counterfeit, and will never accept the counterfeit again. You will adopt the art of war that has defeated you. You will ride to battle horsed on the very logic which you found irresistible. You will accept the fertile truth, instead of the solemn customary lie.

Let nature bear the expense. The attitude, the tone, is all. Let our eyes not look away, but meet. Let us not look east and west for materials of conversation, but rest in presence and unity. A just feeling will fast enough supply fuel for discourse, if speaking be more grateful than silence. When people come to see us, we foolishly prattle, lest we be inhospitable. But things said for conversation are chalk eggs. Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary. A lady of my acquaintance said, ” I don’t care so much for what they say as I do for what makes them say it.”

The main point is to throw yourself on the truth, and say with Newton, ” There ‘s no contending against facts.” When Molyneux fancied that the observations of the nutation of the earth’s axis destroyed Newton’s theory of gravitation, he tried to break it softly to Sir Isaac, who only answered, ” It may be so; there ‘s no arguing against facts and experiments.”

But there are people who cannot be cultivated, – people on whom speech makes no impression,- swainish, morose people, who must be kept down and quieted as you would those who are a little tipsy ; others, who are not only swainish, but are prompt to take oath that swainishness is the only culture; and though their odd wit may have some salt for you, your friends would not relish it. Bolt these out. And I have seen a man of genius who made me think that if other men were like him co-operation were impossible. Must we always talk for victory, and never once for truth, for comfort, and joy ? Here is centrality and penetration, strong understanding, and the higher gifts, the insight of the real, or from the real; and the moral rectitude which belongs to it : but all this and all his resources of wit and invention are lost to me in every experiment that I make to hold intercourse with his mind; always some weary, captious paradox to fight you with, and the time and temper wasted. And beware of jokes; too much temperance cannot be used: inestimable for sauce, but corrupting for food: we go away hollow and ashamed. As soon as the company give in to this enjoyment, we shall have no Olympus. True wit never made us laugh. Mahomet seems to have borrowed by anticipation of several centuries a leaf from the mind of Swedenborg, when he wrote in the Koran : –
“On the day of resurrection, those who have indulged in ridicule will be called to the door of Paradise, and have it shut in their faces when they reach it. Again, on their turning back, they will be called to another door, and again, on reaching it, will see it closed against them; and so on, ad infinitum, without end.”

Shun the negative side. Never worry people with your contritions, nor with dismal views of politics or society. Never name sickness; even if you could trust yourself on that perilous topic, beware of unmuzzling a valetudinarian, who will soon give you your fill of it.

The law of the table is Beauty,-a respect to the common soul of all the guests. Everything is unseasonable which is private to two or three or any portion of the company. Tact never violates for a moment this law; never intrudes the orders of the house, the vices of the absent, or a tariff of expenses, or professional privacies; as we say, we never ” talk shop ” before company. Lovers abstain from caresses, and haters from insults, whilst they sit in one parlor with common friends.

Stay at home in your mind. Don’t recite other people’s opinions. See how it lies there in you ; and if there is no counsel, offer none. What we want is, not your activity or interference with your mind, but your content to be a vehicle of the simple truth. The way to have large occasional views, as in a political or social crisis, is to have large habitual views. When men consult you, it is not that they wish you to stand tiptoe, and pump your brains, but to apply your habitual view, your wisdom, to the present question, forbearing all pedantries, and the very name of argument; for in good conversation parties don’t speak to the words, but to the meanings of each other.

Manners first, then conversation. Later, we see that, as life was not in manners, so it is not in talk. Manners are external; talk is occasional: these require certain material conditions, human labor for food, clothes, house, tools, and, in short, plenty and ease,-since only so can certain finer and finest powers appear and expand. In a whole nation of Hottentots there shall not be one valuable man, – valuable out of his tribe. In every million of Europeans or of Americans there shall be thousands who would be valuable on any spot on the globe.

The consideration the rich possess in all societies is not without meaning or right. It is the approval given by the human understanding to the act of creating value by knowledge and labor. It is the sense of every human being, that man should have this dominion of nature, should arm himself with tools, and force the elements to drudge for him and give him power. Every one must seek to secure his independence; but he need not be rich. The old Confucius in China admitted the benefit, but stated the limitation : “If the search for riches were sure to be successful, though I should become a groom with whip in hand to get them, I will do so. As the search may not be successful, I will follow after that which I love.” There is in America a general conviction in the minds of all mature men, that every young man of good faculty and good habits can by perseverance attain to an adequate estate; if he have a turn for business, and a quick eye for the opportunities which are always offering for investment, he can come to wealth, and in such good season as to enjoy as well as transmit it.

Every human society wants to be officered by a best class, who shall be masters instructed in all the great arts of life ; shall be wise, temperate, brave, public men, adorned with dignity and accomplishments. Every country wishes this, and each has taken its own method to secure such service to the state. In Europe, ancient and modern, it has been attempted to secure the existence of a superior class by hereditary nobility, with estates transmitted by primogeniture and entail. But in the last age, this system has been on its trial and the verdict of mankind is pretty nearly pronounced. That method secured permanence of families, firmness of customs, a certain external culture and good taste; gratified the ear with preserving historic names: but the heroic father did not surely have heroic sons, and still less surely heroic grandsons; wealth and ease corrupted the race.

In America, the necessity of clearing the forest, laying out town and street, and building every house and barn and fence, then church and town-house, exhausted such means as the Pilgrims brought, and made the whole population poor; and the like necessity is still found in each new settlement in the Territories. These needs gave their character to the public debates in every village and State. I have been often impressed at our country town-meetings with the accumulated virility, in each village, of five or six or eight or ten men, who speak so well, and so easily handle the affairs of the town. I often hear the business of a little town (with which I am most familiar) discussed with a clearness and thoroughness, and with a generosity, too, that would have satisfied me had it been one of the larger capitals. I am sure each one of my readers has a parallel experience. And every one knows that in every town or city is always to he found a certain number of public-spirited men, who perform, unpaid, a great amount of hard work in the interest of the churches, of schools, of public grounds, works of taste and refinement. And as in civil duties, so in social power and duties. Our gentlemen of the old school, that is, of the school of Washington, Adams, and Hamilton, were bred after English types, and that style of breeding furnished fine examples in the last generation; but, though some of us have seen such I doubt they are all gone. But nature is not poorer to-day. With all our haste, and slipshod ways, and flippant self-assertion, I have seen examples of new grace and power in address that honor the country. It was my fortune not long ago, with my eyes directed on this subject, to fall in with an American to be proud of. I said never was such force, good meaning, good sense, good action, combined with such domestic lovely behavior, such modesty and persistent preference for others. Wherever he moved he was the benefactor. It is of course that he should ride well, shoot well, sail well, keep house well, administer affairs well, but he was the best talker, also, in the company: what with a perpetual practical wisdom, with an eye always to the working of the thing, what with the multitude and distinction of his facts (and one detected continually that he had a hand in everything that has been done), and in the temperance with which he parried all offence, and opened the eyes of the person he talked with without contradicting him. Yet I said to myself, How little this man suspects, with his sympathy for men and his respect for lettered and scientific people, that he is not likely, in any company, to meet a man superior to himself. And I think this is a good country, that can bear such a creature as he is.

The young men in America at this moment take little thought of what men in England are thinking or doing. That is the point which decides the welfare of a people; which, way does it look ? If to any other people, it is not well with them. If occupied in its own affairs and thoughts and men, with a heat which excludes almost the notice of any other people, – as the Jews, the Greeks, the Persians, the Romans, the Arabians, the French, the English, at their best times have done, – they are sublime; and we know that in this abstraction they are executing excellent work. Amidst the calamities which war has brought on our country this one benefit has accrued, – that our eyes are withdrawn from England, withdrawn from France, and look homeward. We have come to feel that “by ourselves our safety must be bought”; to know the vast resources of the continent, the good-will that is in the people, their conviction of the great moral advantages of freedom, social equality, education, and religious culture, and their determination to hold these fast, and, by them, to hold fast the country and penetrate every square mile of it with this American civilization.

The consolation and happy moment of life, atoning for all short-comings, is sentiment; a flame of affection or delight in the heart, burning up suddenly for its object, – as the love of the mother for her child; of the child for its mate; of the youth for his friend; of the scholar for his pursuit; of the boy for sea-life, or for painting, or in the passion for his country; or in the tender-hearted philanthropist to spend and be spent for some romantic charity, as Howard for the prisoner, or John Brown for the slave. No matter what the object is, so it be good, this flame of desire makes life sweet and tolerable. It reinforces the heart that feels it, makes all its acts and words gracious and interesting. Now society in towns is infested by persons who, seeing that the sentiments please, counterfeit the expression of them. These we call sentimentalists, – talkers who mistake the description for the thing, saying for having. They have, they tell you, an intense love of nature; poetry, – O, they adore poetry, and roses, and the moon, and the cavalry regiment, and the governor; they love liberty,”dear liberty” they worship virtue, “dear virtue!” Yes, they adopt whatever merit is in good repute, and almost make it hateful with their praise. The warmer their expressions, the colder we feel; we shiver with cold. A little experience acquaints us with the unconvertibility of the sentimentalist, the soul that is lost by mimicking soul. Cure the drunkard, heal the insane, mollify the homicide, civilize the Pawnee, but what lessons can be devised for the debauchee of sentiment ? Was ever one converted? The innocence and ignorance of the patient is the first difficulty: he believes his disease is blooming health. A rough realist, or a phalanx of realists, would be prescribed; but that is like proposing to mend your bad road with diamonds. Then poverty, famine, war, imprisonment, might be tried. Another cure would be to fight fire with fire, to match a sentimentalist with a sentimentalist. I think each might begin to suspect that something was wrong.

Would we codify the laws that should reign in households, and whose daily transgression annoys and mortifies us, and degrades our household life -we must learn to adorn every day with sacrifices. Good manners are made up of petty sacrifices. Temperance, courage, love, are made up of the same jewels. Listen to every prompting of honor. “As soon as sacrifice becomes a duty and necessity to the man, I see no limit to the horizon which opens before me.”

Of course those people, and no others, interest us who believe in their thought, who are absorbed, if you please to say so, in their own dream. They only can give the key and leading to better society: those who delight in each other only because both delight in the eternal laws; who forgive nothing to each other; who, by their joy and homage to these, are made incapable of conceit, which destroys almost all the fine wits. Any other affection between men than this geometric one of relation to the same thing, is a mere mush of materialism.

These are the bases of civil and polite society; namely, manners, conversation, lucrative labor, and public action, whether political, or in the leading of social institutions. We have much to regret, much to mend, in our society; but I believe that with all liberal and hopeful men there is a firm faith in the beneficent results which we really enjoy; that intelligence, manly enterprise, good education, virtuous life, and elegant manners have been and are found here, and, we hope, in the next generation will still more abound.

Complete Works of RWE IX - Poems



GOOD-BYE, proud world! I’m going home:
Thou art not my friend, and I’m not thine.
Long through thy weary crowds I roam;
A river-ark on the ocean brine,
Long I’ve been tossed like the driven foam;
But now, proud world! I’m going home.

Good-bye to Flattery’s fawning face;
To Grandeur with his wise grimace;
To upstart Wealth’s averted eye;
To supple Office, low and high;
To crowded halls, to court and street;
To frozen hearts and hasting feet;
To those who go, and those who come;
Good-bye, proud world! I’m going home.

I am going to my own hearth-stone,
Bosomed in yon green hills alone,–
A secret nook in a pleasant land,
Whose groves the frolic fairies planned;
Where arches green, the livelong day,
Echo the blackbird’s roundelay,
And vulgar feet have never trod
A spot that is sacred to thought and God.

O, when I am safe in my sylvan home,
I tread on the pride of Greece and Rome;
And when I am stretched beneath the pines,
Where the evening star so holy shines,
I laugh at the lore and the pride of man,
At the sophist schools and the learned clan;
For what are they all, in their high conceit,
When man in the bush with God may meet?

Complete Works of RWE XII - Natural History of the Intellect

Selected Bibliography on Emerson


Bryer, Jackson R. and Robert A. Rees. A Checklist of Emerson Criticism
Hartford: Transcendental Books, 1964.

Burkholder, Robert E. and Joel Myerson. Emerson: An Annotated Secondary
. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985.


Burkholder, Robert E. and Joel Myerson. Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Annotated
Bibliography of Criticism, 1980-1991.
Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Woodlief, Annette. Emerson's Prose: An Annotated Checklist of Literary
Criticism Through 1976
. Studies in the American Renaissance, 1978. Pages

See also 
Paul Reuben's Emerson bibliography
Donna Campbell's bibliography.

Belknap Press at Harvard University publishes the 

definitive editions of Emerson's works
,including lectures and journals.



Allen, Gay Wilson. Waldo Emerson; a Biography. NY: Viking P, 1981.

Barish, Evelyn. Emerson: The Roots of Prophecy. Princeton: Princeton
UP, 1989.

Buell, Lawrence.
Cambridge: Belknap [Harvard] P, 2003.

Bufano, Randolf J. "Emerson's Apprenticeship to Carlyle, 1827-1848."
American Transcendental Review
. 13 (1972): 17-25.

Gonnaud, Maurice. An Uneasy Solitude. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.

Harris, Kenneth Marc. Carlyle and Emerson: Their Long Debate.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.

McAleer, John. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Days of Encounter. Boston: Little,

Porte, Joel. Emerson in His Journals. Cambridge: Belknap P, 1982.

Slater, Joseph, ed. The Correspondence of Emerson and Carlyle. New
York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

Porte, Joel. Representative Man: Ralph Waldo Emerson in his Time. NY:
Oxford UP, 1978.

Richardson, Robert D. Emerson : The Mind on Fire : a Biography 
University of California: Berkeley, 1995.

Robinson, David. Apostle of Culture. Philadelphia: UP Press, 1982.

Rohler, Lloyd. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Preacher and Lecturer. Westport,
Conn.: Greenwood, 1995.

Rusk, Ralph. The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson. NY: Columbia UP, 1957.

Thurin, Erik Ingvar. The Universal Autobiography of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Lund, Sweden: C. W. K. Gleerup, 1974.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Portrait of a Balanced Soul.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.


Criticism and Collections

criticism on Emerson's Poetry.

Allen, Thomas M. 
"The Geological Revolution in American Time." Conference on Temporal
Politics. []

Anderson, John Q. The Liberating Gods. Coral Gables: Univ. of Miami P,

Bishop, Jonathan. Emerson on the Soul. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1964.
Portions reprinted in
Sealts, pp. 140-44, and
Konvitz, pp. 201-10. 

Brown, Lee R.
Emerson Museum: Practical Romanticism and the Pursusuit of the Whole.

Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997.

Buell, Lawrence, editor. Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Collection of Critical
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, NJ. 1993. 

Burkholder, Robert and Joel Myerson, eds. Critical Essays on Waldo
Boston: G.K. Hall and Co., 1983.

Cady, E. H. and Louis Budd, eds. On Emerson. Durham, NC: Duke UP,

Carpenter, Frederic Ives. Emerson and Asia. Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1930.

Carpenter, Frederic. The Emerson Handbook. NY: Hendricks House, 1953. 

Cavell, Stanley. Conditions Handson and Unhandsome: The Constitution of
Emersonian Perfectionism.
Chicago: U Chicago P, 1990.

Cayton, Mary Kupiec. Emerson's Emergence: Self and Society in the
Transformation of New England, 1800-1845.
Chapel Hill: UNC P, 1989.

Cheyfitz, Eric, The Trans-Parent: Sexual Politics in the Language of
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1981.

Donadio, Stephen, Stephen Railton, and Ormond Seavey. Emerson and His
Legacy: Essays in Honor of Quentin Anderson.
Carbondale: SIU P, 1986. 

Duncan, Jeffrey. The Power and Form of Emerson's Thought.
Charlottesville: U VA P, 1973.

Ellison, Julie K. Emerson's Romantic Style. Princeton: Princeton UP,

Field, Susan L. The Romance of Desire: Emerson's Commitment to
Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1997.

Garvey, T. Gregory, ed. The Emerson Dilemma: Essays on Emerson and Social
. Athens: Uni of GA P, 2001. 

Geldard, Richard G. The Esoteric Emerson: The Spiritual Teachings of Ralph
Waldo Emerson.
Hudson, N.Y.: Lindisfarne Press, 1993.

Geldard, Richard G. God in Concord: Ralph Waldo Emerson's Awakening to the
Burdett, N.Y.: Larson, 1999.

Gelpi, Donald L. Endless Seeker: The Religious Quest of Ralph Waldo
Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1991.

Gougeon, Len. Virtue's Hero: Emerson, Antislavery, and Reform. Athens:
University of Georgia Press, 1990.

Harris, Kenneth Marc. "Coleridge, Carlyle and Emerson." Essays in
Fall 89: 263-279. 

Hodder, Alan D. Emerson's Rhetoric of Revelation: Nature, the Reader, and
the Apocalypse Within.
University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1989.

Hopkins, Vivian C. Spires of Form: A Study of Emerson's Aesthetic Theory.
Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1951. 

Hudnut, Robert K. The Aesthetics of Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Materials and
Methods of His Poetry.
Edwin Mellen Press, 1996.

Hughes, Gertrude Reif. Emerson's Demanding Optimism Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1984. 

Hutch, Richard A. Emerson's Optics: Biographical Process and the Dawn of
Religious Leadership.
Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1983.

Ihrig, Mary Alice. Emerson's Transcendental Vocabulary. New York:
Garland, 1982.

Jacobson, David. Emerson's Pragmatic Vision: the Dance of the Eye.
University Park: Penn State UP, 1993.

Kateb, George . Emerson and Self-Reliance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage P,

Konvitz, Milton R. and Stephen E. Whicher, eds. Emerson: A Collection of
Critical Essays.
Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1962.

Lange, Lou Ann. The Riddle of Liberty: Emerson on Alienation, Freedom, and
Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986.

Leary, Lewis. Ralph Waldo Emerson: An Interpretive
Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Levin, David, ed. Emerson: Prophecy, Metamorphosis and Influence. New
York: Columbia UP, 1975.

Levin, Jonathan. The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism, and
American Literary Modernism.
Durham: Duke UP, 1999.

Lopez, Michael. Emerson and Power: Creative Antagonism in the Nineteenth
Dekalb, ILL: N ILL UP, 1996.

Loving, Jerome. Emerson, Whitman, and the American Muse. Chapel Hill:
UNC P, 1982.

Makarushka, Irene S. Religious Imagination and Language in Emerson and
. New York: St. Martin's, 1994.

McMillin, T. S. Our Preposterous Use of Literature: Emerson and the Nature
of Reading.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Michael, John. Emerson and Skepticism : the Cipher of the World.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins P, 1988.


Mott, Wesley T. and Robert Burkholder, ed. Emersonian Circles: Essays in
Honor of Joel Myerson.
Rochester: URochester, 1997.

Myerson, Joel, ed. Emerson Centenary Essays. Carbondale: Southern
Illinois UP, 1982.

Myerson, Joel, ed. Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Oxford,

Neufeldt, Leonard. Emerson: New Appraisals: Symposium. Hartford, CN:
Transcendental Books, 1973.

Neufeldt, Leonard, The House of Emerson. Lincoln, NE: U Nebraska P,

Newfield, Christopher. The Emerson Effect: Individualism and Submission in
Chicago: Univ. of Chicago P, 1996.

O'Keefe, Richard R. Mythic Archetypes in Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Blakean
. Kent: Kent State UP, 1995.

Packer, Barbara. Emerson's Fall. New York: Continuum, 1982.

Paul, Sherman. Emerson's Angle of Vision: Man and Nature in American
Harvard University: Cambridge, 1952.

Poirier, Richard. The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections.
New York: Random House, 1987.

Porte, Joel, editor. Emerson: Prospect and Retrospect. Cambridge:
Harvard UP, 1982.

Porte, Joel, Emerson and Thoreau: Transcendentalists in Conflict.
Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1966.

Porte, Joel and Saundra Morris, editors. The Cambridge Companion to Ralph
Waldo Emerson.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Porter, David T. Emerson and Literary Change. Harvard University:
Cambridge, 1978.

Rao, Adapa Ramakrishna. Emerson and Social Reform. Atlantic Highlands,
N.J.: Humanities Press, 1980.

Roberson, Susan L. Emerson in His Sermons. Columbia: University of
Missouri P, 1995.

Robinson, David. Apostle of Culture: Emerson as Preacher and Lecturer.
Philadelphia: U Penn P, 1982.

Robinson, David M. Emerson and the Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical
Purpose in the Later Work.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Robinson, David. The Spiritual Emerson: Essential Writings. Boston:
Beacon Press, 2003. 

Rosenwald, Lawrence. Emerson and the Art of the Diary. New York:
Oxford UP, 1988.

Rountree, Thomas J., editor.Critics on Emerson. Coral Gables: U Miami
P, 1973.

Sacks, Kenneth S. Understanding Emerson: "The American Scholar" and His
Struggle for Self-Reliance.
Princeton: Princeton UP, 2003.

Scheick, William J. The Slender Human Word: Emerson's Artistry in Prose.
Knoxville: UT P, 1978.

Schermeister, Pamela. Less Legible Meanings: Between Poetry and Philosophy
in the Work of Emerson.
Stanford: Stanford UP, 1999.

Sealts, Merton M. and Afred R. Ferguson, eds. Emerson's "Nature"–Origin,
Growth, Meaning.
2d ed. Carbondale: SIU P, 1979.

Sealts, Merton M., Jr. Emerson on the Scholar. Columbia: University of
Missouri Press, 1992.

Simon, Myron, and Thonton H. Parsons, eds.
Transcendentalism and Its Legacy.
Ann Arbor: UMich P, 1966.

Steele, Jeffrey. The Representation of the Self in the American
Chapel Hill: UNC P, 1987.

Teichgraeber, Richard F., III. Sublime Thoughts/Penny Wisdom: Situating
Emerson and Thoreau in the American Market.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP,

Van Cromphout, Gustaaf. Emerson's Ethics. Columbia: University of
Missouri P, 1999.

Van Cromphout, Gustaaf. Emerson's Modernity and the Example of Goethe.
Columbia, MO:  University of Missouri Press, 1990.

Van Leer, David. Emerson's Epistemology: The Argument of the Essays.
Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

Versluis, Arthur. The Hermetic Book of Nature: An American Revolution in
St. Paul, Minn.: Grail, 1997.

Wagoner, Hyatt. Emerson as Poet.  Princeton University: Princeton,

Whicher, Stephen. Freedom and Fate: An Inner Life of Emerson. NY: AS
Barnes, 1953.

Wilson, Eric. Emerson's Sublime Science. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1999. 

Yoder, R. A. Emerson and the Orphic Poet in America. Berkeley: Univ of
California P, 1978.

Zwarg, Christina. Feminist Conversations: Fuller, Emerson, and the Play of
. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995.

Complete Works of RWE XII - Natural History of the Intellect

V Europe and European Books

IT was a brighter day than we have often known in our literary calendar, when within a twelvemonth a single London advertisement announced a new volume of poems by Wordsworth, poems by Tennyson, and a play by Henry Taylor. Wordsworth’s nature or character has had all the time it needed in order to make its mark and supply the want of talent. We have learned how to read him. We have ceased to expect that which he cannot give. He has the merit of just moral perception, but not that of deft poetic execution. Nothing of Milton, nothing of Marvell, of Herbert, of Dryden, could be. These are such verses as in a just state of culture should be vers de societe, such as every gentleman could write but none would think of printing, or of claiming the poet’s laurel on their merit. How would Milton curl his lip at such slipshod newspaper style. Many of his poems, as for example the Rylstone Doe, might be all improvised.  The Pindar, the Shakspeare, the Dante whilst they have the just and open soul, have also the eye to see the dimmest star that glimmers in the Milky Way, the serratures of every leaf, the test objects of the microscope, and then the tongue to utter the same , things in words that engrave them on all the ears of mankind. The poet demands all gifts, and not one or two only.

Complete Works of RWE XII - Natural History of the Intellect

VIII The Tragic

HE has seen but half the universe who never has been shown the house of Pain. As the salt sea covers more than two thirds of the surface of the globe, so sorrow encroaches in man on felicity. The conversation of men is a mixture of regrets and apprehensions. I do not know but the prevalent hue of things to the eye of leisure is melancholy. In the dark hours, our existence seems to be a defensive war, a struggle against the encroaching All, which threatens surely to engulf us soon, and is impatient of our short reprieve. How slender the possession that yet remains to us; how faint the animation! how the spirit seems already to contract its domain, retiring within narrower walls by the loss of memory, leaving its planted fields to erasure and annihilation. Already our thoughts and words have an alien sound. There is a simultaneous diminution of memory and hope. Projects that once we laughed and leapt to execute find us now sleepy and preparing to lie down afford to let go any advantages. The riches of body or of mind which we do not need to‑day are the reserved fund against the calamity that may arrive to‑morrow. It is usually agreed that some nations have a more sombre temperament, and one would say that history gave no record of any society in which despondency came so readily to heart as we see it and feel it in ours. Melancholy cleaves to the English mind in both hemispheres as closely as to the strings of an Aoelian harp. Men and women at thirty years, and even earlier, have lost all spring and vivacity, and if they fail in their first enterprises, they throw up the game. But whether we and those who are next to us are more or less vulnerable, no theory of life can have any right which leaves out of account the values of vice, pain, disease, poverty, insecurity, disunion, fear and death.

Complete Works of RWE XII - Natural History of the Intellect

VII A Letter

AS we are very liable, in common with the letter‑writing world, to fall behind‑hand in our correspondence; and a little more liable because in consequence of our editorial function we receive more epistles than our individual share, we have thought that we might clear our account by writing a quarterly catholic letter to all and several who have honored us, in verse or prose, with their confidence, and expressed a curiosity to know our opinion. We shall be compelled to dispose very rapidly of quite miscellaneous topics.

      And first, in regard to the writer who has given us his speculations on Railroads and Air‑roads, our correspondent shall have his own way. To the railway, we must say, — like the courageous lord mayor at his first hunting, when told the hare was coming, — “Let it come, in Heaven’s name, I am not afraid on ‘t.”  Very unlooked‑for political and social effects of the iron road are fast appearing. It will require an expansion of the police of the old world. When a railroad train shoots through Europe every day from Brussels to Vienna, from Vienna to Constantinople, it cannot stop every twenty or thirty miles at a German custom‑house, for examination of property and passports. But when our correspondent proceeds to flying‑machines, we have no longer the smallest taper‑light of credible information and experience left, and must speak on a priori grounds.

Complete Works of RWE XII - Natural History of the Intellect

VI Past and Present

HERE is Carlyle’s new poem, his Iliad of English woes, to follow his poem on France, entitled the History of the French Revolution. In its first aspect it is a political tract, and since Burke, since Milton, we have had nothing to compare with it. It grapples honestly with the facts lying before all men, groups and disposes them with a master’s mind, and, with a heart full of manly tenderness, offers his best counsel to his brothers. Obviously, it is the book of a powerful and accomplished thinker, who has looked with naked eyes at the dreadful political signs in England for the last few years, has conversed much on these topics with such wise men of all ranks and parties as are drawn to a scholar’s house, until such daily and nightly meditation has grown into a great connection, if not a system of thoughts; and the topic of English politics becomes the best vehicle for the expression of his recent thinking, recommended to him by the desire to give some timely counsels, and to strip the worst mischiefs of their plausibility. It is a brave and just book, and not a semblance. “No new, truth,” say the critics on all sides. Is it so? Truth is very old, but the merit of seers is not to invent but to dispose objects in their right places, and he is the commander who is always in the mount, whose eye not only sees details, but throws crowds of details into their right arrangement and a larger and juste‑ totality than any other. The book makes great approaches to true contemporary history, a very rare success, and firmly holds up to daylight the absurdities still tolerated in the English and European system. It is such an appeal to the conscience and honor of England as cannot be forgotten, or be feigned to be forgotten. It has the merit which belongs to every honest book, that it was self‑examining before it was eloquent, and so hits all other men, and, as the country people say of good preaching, ” comes bounce down into every pew.” Every reader shall carry away something. The scholar shall read and write, the farmer and mechanic shall toil, with new resolution, nor forget the book when they resume their labor.

Complete Works of RWE XII - Natural History of the Intellect

III Prayers

NOT with fond shekels of the tested gold,
Nor gems whose rates are either rich or poor
As fancy values them: but with true prayers,
That shall be up at heaven and enter there
Ere sunrise; prayers from preserved souls,
From fasting maids, whose minds are delicate
To nothing temporal.”


      PYTHAGORAS said that the time when men are honestest is when they present themselves before the gods. If we can overhear the prayer we shall know the man. But prayers are not made to be overheard, or to be printed, so that we seldom have the prayer otherwise than it can be inferred from the man and his fortunes, which are the answer to the prayer, and always accord with it. Yet there are scattered about in the earth a few records of these devout hours, which it would edify us to read, could they be collected in a more catholic spirit than the wretched and repulsive volumes which usurp that name. Let us not have the prayers of one sect, nor of the Christian Church, but of men in all ages and religions who have prayed well.

Complete Works of RWE XII - Natural History of the Intellect

II Walter Savage Landor

    WE sometimes meet in a stage‑coach in New England an erect, muscular man, with fresh complexion and a smooth hat, whose nervous speech instantly betrays the English traveller;— a man nowise cautious to conceal his name or that of his native country, or his very slight esteem for the persons and the country that surround him. When Mr. Bull rides in an American coach, he speaks quick and strong; he is very ready to confess his ignorance of everything about him, — persons, manners, customs, politics, geography. He wonders that the Americans should build with wood, whilst all this stone is lying in the roadside; and is astonished to learn that a wooden house may last a hundred years; nor will he remember the fact as many minutes after it has been told him: he wonders that they do not make elder‑wine and cherry‑bounce, since here are cherries, and every mile is crammed with elder‑bushes. He has never seen a good horse in America, nor a good coach, nor a good inn. Here is very good earth and water and plenty of them; that he is free to allow; to all other gifts of Nature or man his eyes are sealed by the inexorable demand for the precise conveniences to which he is accustomed in England. Add to this proud blindness the better quality of great downrightness in speaking the truth, and the love of fair play, on all occasions, and moreover the peculiarity which is alleged of the Englishman, that his virtues do not come out until he quarrels.