« ZurückWeiter »
stopped our adversaries' advice. . but we have told silently upon the mind of the country. we have kept up our own communications with the future. ...-" Culture and Anarchy."
The great men of culture are those who have had a passion for diffusing, for making prevail, for carrying from one end of society to the other, the best ideas of their time. Such a man was Abelard. Such were Lessing and Herder in Germany, at the end of the last century, and their services were inestimably precious. Because they humanized knowledge; because they broadened the basis of life and intelligence; because they worked powerfully. ... to make reason and the will of God prevail.-" Essays."
And therefore, to say the truth, I cannot really think that humane letters are in much actual danger from being thrust out from their leading place in education. So long as human nature is what it is, their attractions will remain irresistible. As with Greek, so with letters generally; they will some day come, we may hope, to be studied more rationally, but they will not lose their place. . . . If they lose it for a time, they will get it back again. We shall be brought back to them by our wants and aspirations. . . . The majority of men will always require humane letters, and so much the more, as they have the greater results of science to relate to the need in man for conduct and to the need in him for beauty.—“ Discourses in America."
EMERSON'S ENGLISH STYLE.
MR. EMERSON, all counter-criticism conceded, is one of America's foremost men-a prominent presence in our history and authorship; one of those representative men, as he himself has called them, who go far to give permanent renown to a nation and raise it immeasurably above mediocrity.
Despite all conflict of opinion as to his ability and work, his name must be placed in the list of great names, and an earnest protest expressed against that narrowness of view which would presume to call him “a charlatan and sciolist.”
In the discussion of English Style, we are not to deal directly with Mr. Emerson's personal character, but with it only so far as it enters vitally into his work as an author. In the pages of Conway and Cabot, Motley and Ireland, Cooke and Holmes, there may be found all that is needed in the line of biography. Nor can there be discussed, save incidentally, his philosophic and religious views; his own language, at this point, being sufficiently conclusive, as he says—"I prefer to be called a Christian theist.” It is with Emerson the author and the writer that the literary student has to do, and, even here, he must confine himself to the department of his prose writings as distinct from his poetry. The study in hand is a study of style, and the question to be answered is the important and somewhat difficult one-What are the salient characteristics of Mr. Emerson's English style, or the style, Emersonian.
I. First, and most significant, is its Intellectuality. It is in no sense contradictory, but highly consistent and logical, as has been shown, to speak of an intellectual style, marked by the dominance of subject matter over all that is external, and ever insisting upon the truth that language is the expression of thought, for the sake, primarily, of the thought itself. When Mr. Arnold, in his “ American Addresses,” denies Mr. Emerson the claim to being a high order of philosophic writer, the term philosophic is used in the specific, technical sense, and not in the wider sense of intellectual. The English critic is referring to his peculiar philosophical ideas and to that particular type of prose in which they are expressed. Mr. Emerson himself is constantly calling attention to this mental element in authorship, and cannot utter too much in its praise. “ The effect of any writing on the public mind,” he says, "is mathematically measurable by its depth of thought. How much water
does it drain? If it awaken you to think; if it lift you from your feet ... then the effect is to be wide and permanent."
It would be difficult for any one to study carefully the face of Emerson without detecting this higher quality. The very lineaments are intellectual, indicative of the seer and the oracle ; vatic and prophetic in their outline; fully answering to those descriptions of facial expressiveness which Mrs. Browning gives us in her, "Vision of Poets," as she sings so sublimely of Shakespeare and Æschylus, Sophocles and Homer, Pindar, Sappho and Lucretius, Dante and Petrarch, and of the angel before the altar whose “brow's height was sovereign." * There are faces,” says Emerson, “
so fluid with expression, so flushed and rippled with the play of thought, that we can hardly find what the mere features really are."
Notice, further, the nature of the themes which our author discusses; such as “Intellect," “Plato," “ The Philosophers,” “Ability,” “Originality,” “Greatness," "Education," “ The Scholar," and, so,
, “, on. The reader is, at once, impressed with their marked mentality. Even when not in themselves mental, they are mentally presented and applied. Critics have spoken rightly of the “solid value of his thoughts.” It is for this reason that we may equally rightly speak of the solid value of his style. We are not surprised to read that for three successive years at Harvard he discoursed to the students on “ The Natural History of the Intellect.” Plato
and Plutarch, Homer and Dante, Milton and Shakespeare were his ideals and favorites because they embodied the intellectual element'in style and character. He speaks appreciatively of “ Coleridge, as a catholic mind, hungry for ideas.” Emerson was a thinker with pen in hand, a thoughtful writer—a writer full of thought; always cogitating; always mentally observing and inferring; always walking with uplifted spirit, but with bowed head, seeking to peer deeper and still deeper into the innermost heart of truth and things.
Some of the evidences of this intellectuality of style may be profitably noted.
1. Originality. We may call it, without modification, Genius. He did his own thinking, in his own way, courteously but absolutely regardless of the thinking of others. He could not have done otherwise had he wished. “Insist on yourself; never imitate,” is his oft-repeated exhortation. “He is great who is what he is from nature, and who never reminds us of others.” If he admires Plato and Shakespeare and the great ones of earth, it is, as Mr. Holmes expresses it, “always with a reservation.” That reservation is his own individuality and his own individual opinion, which, despite all inducement and pressure, he will never surrender.
Among all his characteristic essays, none is more decidedly so than that on “Self-Reliance,” filled to the full with this cardinal merit of personality, taking for its text the well-known affirma