Puslapio vaizdai

thing as concealment. Commit a crime and the world is made of glass." "Men suffer all their life long, under the foolish superstition that they can be cheated. But it is as impossible for a man to be cheated by any one but himself, as for a thing to be and not to be at the same time. There is a third silent party to all our bargains. The nature and soul of things takes upon itself the guarantee of the fulfilment of every contract, so that honest service cannot come to loss. If you serve an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid."

Or this from the "Spiritual Laws.”

Always as much virtue as there is, so much appears; as much goodness as there is, so much reverence it commands. All the devils respect virtue. The high, the generous, the selfdevoted sect will always instruct and command mankind. Never a sincere word was utterly lost. Never a magnanimity fell to the ground. Always the heart of man greets and accepts it unexpectedly. A man passes for that he is worth. What he is, engraves itself on his face, on his form, on his fortunes, in letters of light, which all men may read but himself. Concealment avails nothing; boasting, nothing. There is confession in the glances of our eyes; in smiles; in salutations; and the grasp of hands. His sin bedaubs him, mars all good impression. Men know not why they do not trust him, but they do not trust him. His vice glasses his eye, demeans his cheek, pinches the nose, sets the mark of the beast on the back of the head, and writes,* O fool! fool! on the forehead of a king."

[ocr errors]

We should say that moral philosophy was Mr. Emerson's peculiar province, were it not that the over-weight of the poetical over the practical, in his composition, disposes him to look at things too much in the order of the imagination, not in the order of the understanding; and to show virtue as a beautiful phenomenon, rather than to illustrate its practical application.

Mr. Emerson possesses all the intellectual qualifications of a great poet; -eye, imagination, language," the vision and the faculty divine." The reason why he has not fulfilled the destination implied in these endowments is a defect of temperament-an excess of purely intellectual life. To constitute a poet, there must be a certain proportion between feeling and intellect, between the sentimental and the sciential. Excess of one makes the enthusiast; excess of the other, the philosopher. The poet occupies a


middle stratum of humanity, combining the two. the reign of ideas, or the sciential tendency prevails in an age or an individual, the poet becomes a philosopher. Hence poetry declined in Greece with Plato and Aristotle; and hence so many poets of this age have turned from poetry to prose, in their riper years. With a little more activity of feeling, and a little less activity of speculation, Mr. Emerson would have made a first-rate poet. As it is, the little poetry he has published possesses rare merit. In point of vividness, melody, and force of expression, it is unsurpassed; in these days, unrivalled. The following specimens may serve as illustrations of these qualities. They are not the best, perhaps, that might be found; but they are the only ones we have at hand. The first is from "The Problem."

"The hand that rounded Peter's dome,

And groined the aisles of Christian Rome,
Wrought in a sad sincerity.

Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than he knew,
The conscious stone to beauty grew.

Know'st thou what wove yon woodbird's nest
Of leaves, and feathers from her breast;
Or how the fish out-built her shell,
Painting with morn each annual cell;
Or how the sacred pine tree adds
To her old leaves new myriads?
Such and so grew these holy piles,
Whilst love and terror laid the tiles.
Earth proudly wears the Parthenon
As the best gem upon her zone;
And morning opes with haste her lids
To gaze upon the Pyramids;
O'er England's Abbeys bends the sky
As on its friends with kindred eye;
For, out of thought's interior sphere
These wonders rose to upper air,
And nature gladly gave them place,
Adopted them into her race,
And granted them an equal date
With Andes and with rarat."

Our next specimen is from "The Sphinx."

"The babe, by its mother
Lies bathed in joy,
Glide its hours uncounted,
The sun is its toy ;
Shines the peace of all being
Without cloud in its eyes,
And the sum of the world
In soft miniature lies."

"Profounder, profounder
Man's spirit must dive:
To his aye-rolling orbit
No goal will arrive.

The heavens that now draw him
With sweetness untold,
Once found,- for new heavens
He spurneth the old."

"Eterne alternation
Now follows, now flies,
And under pain, pleasure,
Under pleasure, pain lies.
Love works at the centre
Heart heaving alway,
Forth speed the strong pulses
To the borders of day."

Mr. Emerson's poetry is a striking exception to the remark of Goethe, that "modern poets put too much water in their ink." He does not dilute his verse with the washy sentimentality which floods the pages of his contemporaries. He chants no lullabies for love-sick, life-sick souls, "sighing like a furnace;" but carols a lay that is tart and wholesome, and stirs the blood with a keen delight, like a draught of morning air. It was Dugald Stewart, if we mistake not, who explained the pleasure produced by rhyme, to consist in surprise. Coleridge rejects the explanation, and justly; but we are reminded of it in reading Mr. Emerson's poetry. A perpetual joy of surprise accompanies his strains. One has not the ennui of knowing, from long experience, what is to come next. As a poet, he seems not to belong to this age, but to mate with the singers of a former, more freemouthed and great-hearted race. Not that there is any affectation of antiquity, any disposition to ape an obsolete style. On the contrary, it is his originality that gives him

this character, distinguishing him from all his contemporaries. Nowhere does it appear more conspicuous, than in the structure of his verses. He has an ear for melody, as every true poet, and every finely organized person has. But how different his rhythm from the monotonous, mechanical movement of modern versifiers which reminds one of a hand-organ. It is the free, gushing, careless, live melody of an elder age. It smacks of Milton and of Marvell.

Whether poetry or prose, force of statement is always a distinguishing trait in his writings. It constitutes their highest merit, rhetorically considered. The merit is not mechanical, — a trick of speech that can be copied. Many of the characteristics of his style have been imitated, but not this. It results from a vividness of conception peculiar to himself. To perceive a truth, with him, is to be on fire with it, is to blaze with it: it bursts from him in flashes of intense illumination. With most writers there is a certain distance between the thought and the word. The union is not complete. The thought is wedded, as well as may be, to a given vocabulary, or the vocabulary to the thought; but it is not always a perfect match. But Mr. Emerson's thoughts seem to make their own words. Thought and word hang together, like the lightning and the thunder in a summer cloud. It was said of Walter Scott, that no writer who has produced so much, is so little quoted or has so little that is "quotable." The reverse is true of Mr. EmerWe know not the writer who offers so much quotable matter, within the same compass. No writer compresses more meaning in fewer words. His sentences are compact and portable, like proverbs and axioms. They often take that form. For example: "God loveth not size." "A fact is the end of spirit." "We can love nothing but nature." "Action is the perfection of thought." "The eye is the best of artists."


We concede, to a certain extent, the euphuism charged upon these volumes. The prevailing style of them is, certainly, very far from being a model of good English. It could not be that and, at the same time, be what we have just said of it, and what we consider a greater merit. The excellences which constitute a model in style are negative. To serve this purpose, a style must not be distinguished by

anything idiomatic or striking. The words must be colorless and suggest no associated thought or fancy. They must approach, as nearly as possible, the character of algebraic signs. Every violation of this rule is an approach to euphuism; and Mr. Emerson violates it to such an extent, as almost to make the rule the exception. The question is, does he compensate for these transgressions by high and higher excellences of his own? We could wish indeed, that he had not seen fit to adopt so frequently an unusual collocation of words, and had placed his parts of speech in the order in which nature and Murray designed that they should go; but we can pardon some conceits where there is so much force; and, if we must either have both or lose both, are willing to put up with his mannerism for the sake of his originality. The worst of that mannerism is not its awkwardness in the original, but the facility with which it is copied and the temptation to copy it. What is most peculiar in his writing, is also most excellent and cannot be transferred. His imitators may out-do the contortions of his syntax, but they will never be able to wriggle themselves into the secret of his inspiration.

Perhaps we ought to go deeper than the syntax, while speaking of the vices of his rhetoric, and attack the peculiarities of his logic and his philosophy, to which these vices are, in part, referrible. Much may be said, and has been said of the strange quirks and freaks of thought, the heresies and paradoxes, the love of the "novum, audax, indictum ore alio," with which these Essays abound. We grant it all and offer no justification of that, which, if there is any justice in it, will one day justify itself, and cannot be made to appear just if there is not. But neither are we disposed to hold it up for reprobation, and to add another vote to the full-voiced censure so distinctly pronounced. After all that has been said on this subject, we could offer nothing so superfluous as blame. The gravest charge has already been considered; the rest we leave to the archcritic Time, whose long-pending and unpurchaseable verdict all books and philosophies must abide. To be frank, the beauties and merits of Mr. Emerson's writings - the much that is true and good in them—so preponderate, in our estimation, over their defects, that it seems to us a littleness and an ingratitude to lean with all the weight of exact criti

« AnkstesnisTęsti »