« ZurückWeiter »
and which casts over the body of his authorship a kind of hallowed peace. He admired Milton and Dante, and the great Greek tragedians largely because of their personal and literary gravity.
We may advance a step further and note, that the ethical quality takes, at times, the form of Spirituality. There is the constant presence and exercise of the moral sense, a delicate and an unerring sensibility, such as we rarely find in authors.
His absorbing perusal of such writers as Augustine, Plato, Plutarch, and Jeremy Taylor was largely due to that spiritual affinity that existed between his soul and theirs. His essay on "Spiritual Laws" was, thus, highly characteristic. No American author has so fully exhibited the inseparable relations of style and character. student," he says, "is great only by being passive to the superincumbent spirit." His biographers speak of him as “a spiritual-looking boy." He takes exception to the great German, Göethe, by reason of the absence of this higher quality of soul. "I dare not say," he writes, "that Göethe ascended to the highest grounds from which genius has spoken. He is incapable of a self-surrender to the moral sentiment. He can never be dear to men." This deep Emersonian temper amounts, not infrequently, to spiritual passion-what we have called ethical energy of nature, suffusing his being and his authorship. "The word impassioned," says Dr. Holmes, "would seem misplaced, if
applied to any of Mr. Emerson's orations." Later on, however, when Emerson had reached the maturity of his powers, the same biographer calls our attention to his "paragraphs glowing with heat."
In fine, his nature was ethical. As Mr. Taine would express it, he was "pre-inclined" to the moral and spiritual. His very culture was of this higher type, the bright exponent of his character and inner life. He could not agree with Mr. Arnold, that culture was purely literary; nor with Mr. Huxley, that it was scientific and philosophic, but rose, without effort, to the high position assumed by Principal Shairp, that it was, first and last, an ethical quality. He speaks, therefore, sympathetically, of the "intellectual conscience "; of the "piety of learning"; of "the unity of thought and morals." "All the chief orators of the world," he says, "have been grave men. Eloquence is the best speech of the best soul." His profound sense of responsibility, as a teacher of men and an author, was one of the expressions of this innate temper of mind. "All writing," he says, "comes of the grace of God," and, when he speaks to us of "the great majesty of style," he refers to those subtle and unseen relations that exist between what a man is interiorly and what he says and does. The closing quatrain of one of his best poems summarily expresses it, wherein he makes human learning tributary to character, as he
“I laugh at the love and the pride of man,
Turning, for a moment, from praise to adverse criticism, we notice, here, an ethical defect of style, as we noticed a defect purely intellectual. We refer to what has been called, and rightly so, mysticism. "Emerson's poetry," writes Dr. Holmes, "is eminently subjective." So, we may add, is the most of his prose-illustrating that introspective order of style which is not only Platonic and idealistic, but, often, perplexing. To this tendency and quality there are, indeed, notable exceptions. If we survey the lists of themes which Emerson discusses, there is one column of topics so objective in purport that we might classify them under what he calls-Social Aims. Such are-" Man," "The Reformer," "The Young American," "Politics," "Land," "Wealth," Civilization," "Domestic Life," "War," "The Fugitive Slave Law," "Farming," and "The Future of the Republic." What could be more pertinent and freer from the mystical? Even here, however, though the theme be practical, the discussion is psychologic, and, often, visionary. He speaks of his own "tendency to introversion." Carlyle tells him that "he is too ethical and speculative." One of his biographers calls him "an intellectual mystic." He was, thereby, attracted to the Oriental systems of religion, such as Brahmanism, in the study of which he
could give full scope to the love of the weird and the partially revealed. He believed in the OverSoul-the all-embracing Unity. His piety, as his philosophy, was transcendental, super-rational and, at times, apparently contra-rational. He moved under the guidance of the inner light. "I think nothing is of any value in books," he says, save the transcendental and extraordinary. Therefore all books of the imagination endure.”
Under the control of this ethical reverie, it is not strange that his style often becomes nebulous and uncertain, leading us on through a kind of Nirvana to a condition of semi-consciousness, rather than out and aloft into the open air of clearness and life. "His facts are true in themselves," says Matthew Arnold, "if understood in a certain high sense." To that high sense many of his most appreciative readers often fail to come, possibly because the author himself was outside of himself when he penned the facts. Mr. Emerson, despite his paper on The Over-Soul," was, in no true sense, a Pantheist. His style, however, is, at times, Pantheistic, if we mean by that epithet visionary and mystical. The moral rises to the spiritual, and the spiritual over-reaches itself in the form of romantic reverie.
This defect conceded, however, it is but occasional and partial, and does not materially detract from the high merit of the style of our author, on its ethical side. The point of importance is, that when Mr. Emerson writes, he does so under the
guidance of his heart and conscience and, mainly, because he could not do otherwise. His sense of indebtedness to God and man and to the interests of truth was so pronounced and vital, that he took up the pen somewhat as the old prophets took it up, with the "burden of the Word of the Lord" upon him, to which, willingly or unwillingly, his readers must give heed. He was, in the best sense, a conscientious author, and it is of the Bible and the sacred books of the world and such spiritual volumes as "The Imitation of Christ" and "The Thoughts of Pascal" that he significantly says "that they are for the closet, and to be read on bended knee." If this is Pantheism in thought or style, we must make the most of it.
III. Literary Tone and Spirit. We have spoken of Emerson's face as intellectual and ethical in its expression. It is, also, of the specifically literary type, indicating the author's natural right to a place among what Dr. Holmes calls, the "Academic Races of New England." Observers speak of that "look of refinement" which his countenance wore; that "cheerful intelligent face" which, in his own language, "is the end of culture."
We have spoken in other connections of the favorite themes which Emerson discussed. If we classify them as intellectual, ethical and literary”, it is highly suggestive to note that the last predominate, there being no less than thirty different essays upon literary topics. A few representative