« ZurückWeiter »
essays little that is analytical; in this sense, little that is Baconian.
It is safe to say that, in this view of it, Mr. Emerson's style, as his mind, is intuitional rather than reflective. There is a lack of what he himself has aptly called-" constructive energy; purposed subordination of consecutive argument to the individual instincts of the judgment and the reason. It would be difficult to conceive of him as following, on the basis of gathered facts, the slow processes of inductive reasoning from premises to conclusion. We look in vain throughout his essays for the statement of truth in syllogistic form. As Dr. Holmes tersely expresses it-"His gift was insight." What he could not see at once, he could not see at all, and, in the deep, intense action of his mind, had neither the patience nor power to hold himself bound to any scientific order of procedure. Emerson's mind and art were not so much illogical as unlogical. He was what Coleridge called "non sequacious." Hence, too much faith must not be placed in his conclusions as a critic, if, indeed, his avowals as to men and principles could justly take the name of conclusions. In this respect, he was Carlyle's inferior, who with all his errors and obliquities, often reasoned his way along from step to step and reached results by gradational process.
Careful students of the writings and style of Emerson have called attention to his preference of miscellany to the more extended and exhaustive
forms of topical discussion. The explanation is not far to find. His preference was here the exponent of his ability. His genius was in depth of penetration rather than in range of outlook. If we may so express it, his power was perpendicular; not lateral or linear. Though his themes covered the general area of truth, and may be said to have been well-nigh unlimited, his treatment of themes was limited, rarely evincing that many-sidedness of discussion which is the mark of the comprehensive writer. It is thus natural to find that within the sphere of English Prose, Emerson was confined to memoirs, sketches, orations and miscellany. How striking and, in a sense, plaintive is his remark to Carlyle, "I am the victim of miscellany." In speaking of Coleridge, he notes, “as the misfortune of his life, his vast attempts, but most inadequate performings." In the ten volumes of his prose writings, we meet with nothing save essays and addresses. Within this area he is a master, but seldom ventures beyond the bounds of it, even by way of relaxation.
All this admitted, however, in the line of limitation, we revert with interest and emphasis to the marked intellectuality of Emerson's style inside the province to which his powers assigned him and held him.
In the direction of what we may designate, a subjective English style, he was without a peer. His genius as a man and an author was introspective. He was ever descending to the centre and
interior, and, when he spoke or wrote, there was a something subterranean in it all. "Look in thy heart and write," he says, quoting from the courtly Sidney. Style, he would tell us, is the revelation of the inner self, the expression of a man's intellectual personality upon the open page and, therefore, despite all its defects, must be original and potent.
II. Ethical Energy. Though we come to the discussion of this characteristic as second in order, it is by no means clear which is the more distinctive quality of Mr. Emerson's character and stylethe intellectual or the ethical. We have spoken of the mental type of his face. Its moral significance is equally striking. No one could have looked upon the features of Emerson when living, as no one can now carefully study his portrait, apart from the impression of the character that was in him. There was what Mrs. Browning has called, "the forehead royal with the truth." There were "the lips and jaw, grand-made and strong, as Sinai's law." It is of " chosen men and women" that Emerson says-"Their face and manners carry a certain grandeur, like time and justice."
We may truly say, that his great, cardinal characteristic was character. He bore about with him in material life the salient marks of his clerical lineage and habit. Before and after he was "approbated to preach," in 1826, he was morally inclined thereto, while his surrender of the ministry on doctrinal
grounds in no whit indicated a decrease of ethical spirit. We have spoken of the intellectual type of his themes. Their ethical quality is even more apparent, such as, "Literary Ethics," "Spiritual Laws," "The Over-Soul," "Character," "Montaigne the Sceptic," "Religion," "Worship," "Behaviour," "Inspiration," "Immortality," "The Preacher," and, above all, that masterpiece of morals, "The Sovereignty of Ethics," in which he speaks, in his inimitable way, "of the immense energy of the sentiment of duty and the awe of the supernatural." "Men are respectable only as they respect." "We delight in children because of that religious eye which belongs to them." Even where the topics themselves are not ethical, they are ethically discussed, and his final appeal, after all others have failed, is always to the deepest moral emotions and instincts.
There are some specific expressions of this quality of Emerson's style to which particular attention should be called.
1. We are impressed, at the outset, with the Sincerity of his style. We can say of him as he said of Thoreau-"He is sincerity itself." As has been well expressed, "No man who is himself sincere can doubt Emerson's sincerity." In thought, method, aim and general procedure, there is an attractive simplicity of type, often taking the form of a sweet and genial manner, -indicative of an innate graciousness of soul. "If a man dissemble," says Emerson, "he goes out
of acquaintance with his own being." "There are living organisms so transparent," writes Dr. Holmes, "that we can see their hearts beating and their blood flowing-so transparent was the life of Emerson." "When a man speaks the truth in the spirit of truth," he adds, "his eye is as clear as the heavens." "The way to speak and write what shall not go out of fashion is to speak and write sincerely."
2. Equally noticeable, as an ethical element, is the Sobriety of his work, a matter with him of conscience and of taste, ancestral and connatural, an essential factor of his highest personality. There is in all he does and says that "intellectual seriousness" of which Mr. Arnold has spoken in other connections-that dignified serenity of spirit which is one of the infallible marks of the highest minds. It is under the potent influence of this central characteristic that he writes
"Out of our shallow and frivolous way of life, how can greatness ever grow?" "We spend our incomes for a hundred trifles and not for the things of a man." As Milton, before him, he had nothing to do with frivolities. "There was a majesty about him beyond all other men I have known," says Lowell, "and he dwelt, habitually, in that ampler and diviner air to which most of us, if ever, rise but occasionally." Even his humor is grave and decorous in its character-the more informal expression of that profound serenity of spirit which subdued all who came to his presence,