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of the angles at the four corners is a right angle. I had my rule and compasses, my lord, in my pocket. And for the poem, your lordship bid me look at it — upon taking the length, breadth, height, and depth of it, and trying them at home, upon an exact scale of Bossu's — they are out, my lord, in every one of their dimensions."
Oh, gentle reader, we have looked on these efforts of our brother critics not without pity. There is an excellent bird, terrene, marine, and semi-aerial; a broad-footed bird, broadbeaked, broad-backed, broad-tailed; a notable bird she is, and a long lived; a useful bird, once indispensable to writers, as furnishing the pen, now fruitful in many a hint. But when she undertakes to criticize the music of the thrush, or the movement of the humming bird, why, she oversteps the modesty of her nature, and if she essays the flight of the eagle she is fortunate if she falls only upon the water.
may stultify himself.” Does not this canon apply to critics ? No, the critic may do so. Suicide is a felony, but if a critic only slay himself critically, dooming himself to "hoise with his own petard," why 't is to be forgiven
That in our aspirations to be great,
Our destinies o’erleap our mortal state.” In a place where there were no Quarterly Journals, the veracious historian Sir Walter Scott, relates that Claud Halcro, ambitious of fame, asked his fortune of an Orcadian soothsayer:
“ Tell me, shall my lays be sung,
One note to rival glorious John ? ' She answers, that as things work after their kind, the result is after the same kind:
66 No man,
" The eagle mounts the polar sky,
We are warned by the fate of our predecessors, when their example does not guide us ; we confess not only our inferiority to Mr. Emerson, but our consciousness of the fact, and believe that they should " judge others who themselves excel," and that authors, like others on trial, should be judged by their peers. So we will not call this a criticism, which we are about to write on Mr. Emerson, only an attempt at a contribution towards a criticism, hoping that in due time, some one will come and do faithfully and completely, what it is not yet time to accomplish, still less within our power to do.
All of Mr. Emerson's literary works, with the exception of the Poems, were published before they were printed ; delivered by word of mouth to various audiences. In frequently reading his pieces, he had an opportunity to see any defect of form and amend it. Mr. Emerson has won by his writings a more desirable reputation, than any other man of letters in America has yet attained. It is not the reputation which brings him money or academic honors, or membership of learned societies ; nor does it appear conspicuously in the literary Journals as yet. But he has a high place among thinking men, on both sides of the water; we think no man who writes the English tongue has now so much influence in forming the opinions and character of young men and women. His audience steadily increases, at home and abroad, more rapidly in England than America. It is now with him as it was, at first, with Dr. Channing; the fairest criticism has come from the other side of the water; the reason is that he, like his predecessor, offended the sectarian and party spirit, the personal prejudices of the men about him; his life was a reproach to them, his words an offence, or his doctrines alarmed their sectarian, their party, or their personal pride, and they accordingly condemned the man. A writer who should bear the same relation to the English mind as Emerson to ours, for the same reason would be more acceptable here than at home. Emerson is neither a sectarian nor a partisan, no man less so; yet few men in America have been visited with more hatred, - private personal hatred, which the authors poorly endeavored to conceal, and perhaps did hide from them. selves. The spite we have heard expressed against him, by men of the common morality, would strike a stranger with amazement, especially when it is remembered that his personal character and daily life are of such extraordinary loveliness. This hatred has not proceeded merely from ignorant men, in whom it could easily be excused; but more often from men who have had opportunities of obtaining as good a culture as men commonly get in this country. Yet while he has been the theme of vulgar abuse, of sneers and ridicule in public, and in private ; while critics, more remarkable for the venom of their poison than the strength of their bow, have shot at him their
little shafts, barbed more than pointed, he has also drawn about him some of what old Drayton called “the idle smoke of praise.” Let us see what he has thrown into the public fire to cause this incense; what he has done to provoke the immedicable rage of certain other men; let us see what there is in his works, of old or dew, true or false, what American and what cosmopolitan ; let us weigh his works with such imperfect scales as we have, weigh them by the universal standard of Beauty, Truth and Love, and make an attempt to see what he is worth.
American literature may be distributed into two grand divisions : namely, the permanent literature, consisting of books not written for a special occasion, books which are bound between hard covers; and the transient literature, written for some special occasion and not designed to last berond that. Our permanent literature is almost wholly an imitation of oid models. The substance is old, and the form old. There is nothing American about it. But as our writers are commonly quite deficient in literary culture and scientific discipline, their productions seem poor when compared with the imitative portion of the permanent literature in older countries, where the writers start with a better discipline and a better acquaintance with letters and art. This inferiority of culture is one of the misfortunes incident to a new country, especially to one where practical talent is so much, and so justly preferred to merely literary accomplishment and skill. This lack of culture is yet more apparent, in general, in the transient literature, which is produced mainly by men who bare had few advantages for intellectual discipline in early life, and few to make acquaintance with books at a later period. That portion of our literature is commonly stronger and more American, but it is often coarse and rude. The permanent literature is imitative; the other is rowdy. But we have now no time to dwell upon this theme, which demands a separate paper.
Mr. Emerson is the most American of our writers. The Idea of America, which lies at the bottom of our original institutions, appears in him with great prominence. We mean the idea of personal freedom, of the dignity and value of human nature, the superiority of a man to the accidents of a man. Emerson is the most republican of republicans, the most protestant of the dissenters. Serene as a Juls sun, he is equally fearless. He looks erery thing in the face modestly, but with earnest scrutiny, and passes judgment upon
its merits. Nothing is too high for his examination ; nothing too sacred. On earth only one thing he finds which is thoroughly venerable, and that is the nature of man; not the accidents, which make a man rich or famous, but the substance, which makes him a man. The man is before the institutions of man; his nature superior to his history. All finite things are only appendages of man, useful, convenient, or beautiful. Man is master, and nature his slave, serving for many a varied use. The results of human experience the state, the church, society, the family, business, literature, science, art — all of these are subordinate to man: if they serve the individual, he is to foster them, if not, to abandon them and seek better things. He looks at all things, the past and the present, the state and the church, Christianity and the market-house, in the daylight of the intellect. Nothing is allowed to stand between him and his manhood. Hence, there is an apparent irreverence ; he does not bow to any hat which Gessler has set up for public adoration, but to every man, canonical or profane, who bears the mark of native manliness. He eats show-bread, if he is hungry. While he is the most American, he is almost the most cosmopolitan of our writers, the least restrained and belittled by the popular follies of the nation or the age.
In America, writers are commonly kept in awe and subdued by fear of the richer class, or that of the mass of men. Mr. Emerson has small respect for either; would bow as low to a lackey as a lord, to a clown as a scholar, to one man as a million. He spurns all constitutions but the law of his own nature, rejecting them with manly scorn. The traditions of the churches are no hindrances to his thought; Jesus or Judas were the same to him, if either stood in his way and hindered the proportionate development of his individual life. The forms of society and the ritual of scholarship are no more effectual restraints. His thought of today is no barrier to freedom of thought tomorrow, for his own nature is not to be subordinated, either to the history of man, or his own history.
“ Tomorrow to fresh fields and pastures new," is his motto.
Yet, with all this freedom, there is no wilful display of it. He is so confident of his freedom, so perfectly possessed of his rights, that he does not talk of them. They appear, but are not spoken of. With the hopefulness and buoyant liberty of America, he has none of our ill-mannered boasting. He crit
icizes America often; he always appreciates it; he seldom praises, and never brags of our country. The most democratic of democrats, no disciple of the old régime is better mannered, for it is only the vulgar democrat or aristocrat who flings his follies in your face. While it would be difficult to find a writer so uncompromising in his adhesion to just principles, there is not in all his works a single jeer or ill-natured sarcasm. None is less addicted to the common forms of reverence, but who is more truly reverential ? While his Idea is American, the form of his literature is not
It is a form which suits the substance, and is modi. fied by the institutions and natural objects about him. You see that the author lives in a land with free institutions, with town-meetings and ballot-boxes ; in the vicinity of a decaying church ; amongst men whose terrible devils are Poverty and Social Neglect, the only devils whose damnation is much cared for. His geography is American. Katskill and the Alleghanies, Monadnock, Wachusett, and the uplands of New Hampshire, appear in poetry or prose ; Contocook and Agiochook are better than the Îlyssus, or Pactolus, or “smoothsliding Mincius, crowned with vocal reeds.” New York, Fall River, and Lowell have a place in his writings, where a vulgar Yankee would put Thebes or Pæstum. His men and women are American —John and Jane, not Coriolanus and Persephone. He tells of the rhodora, the club-moss, the blooming clover, not of the hibiscus and the asphodel. He knows the humblebee, the blackbird, the bat, and the wren, and is not ashamed to say or sing of the things under his own eyes. He illustrates his high thought by common things out of our plain New England life — the meeting in the church, the Sunday school, the dancing-school, a huckleberry party, the boys and girls hastening home from school, the youth in the shop, beginning an unconscious courtship with his unheeding customer, the farmers about their work in the fields, the bustling trader in the city, the cattle, the new hay, the voters at a town. meeting, the village brawler in a tavern full of tipsy riot, the conservative who thinks the nation is lost if his ticket chance to miscarry, the bigot worshipping the knot hole through which a dusty beam of light has looked in upon his darkness, the radical who declares that nothing is good if established, and the patent reformer who screams in your ears that he can finish the world with a single touch, - and out of all these he makes his poetry, or illustrates his philosophy. Now and then