Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

examples may be cited, such as, “The Man of Letters," "Persian Poetry,” “The Progress of Culture,” “Books,” “Eloquence,” “Beauty,” “ Literature,” “Shakespeare,” “ The Poet,” “Göethe, the ”

,

" Writer," "Literary Ethics" and such separate critiques as those of Carlyle and Thoreau; Burns, Scott and Montaigne. His earliest tastes and efforts, at the Boston Latin School and at Harvard, were not only mentally mature, but were so in the literary sense. Students of his writings must have been impressed with the special satisfaction that he seemed to experience when called upon to address academic students on some commanding theme appertaining to English and American Letters, as he so often did at Harvard, Dartmouth and other literary centres.

Equally noticeable is what we may call his literary knowledge-his wide acquaintance with authors and books, ancient and modern; native and foreign. Especially, in his papers on Shakespeare and Literature and Books is this wealth of literary information seen as he goes over, in cursory manner, the leading names in the world's catalogue of writers. He is never weary of calling our attention to his appreciation of literature and literary men. “The best heads that ever existed," he tells us, “were quite too wise to undervalue letters. A great man should be a great reader.” He speaks of the “power and joy” that belong to the career of letters; congratulates those who are committed to such a career and bids them God-speed in its

prosecution. We question whether, in the entire collection of his essays, there are finer paragraphs and pages than those in which he is aiming to exhibit the special gift and graces of Edward Evcrett as an orator and a master of language. The eulogium occurs in his paper on “Life and Letters in New England," and is so continuously brilliant and suggestive as to make any special quotation invidious.

Moreover, he is ever intent upon magnifying the office of the author as one of marked superiority and worthy of the best efforts of the best men. In his essay on “Goethe, the Writer,” he confines himself to this exalted theme, stating that "men are born to write"; that there have been times when the writer "was a sacred person"; "that talent alone cannot make a writer"; that "behind the book there must be a man.”

If we inquire, more specifically, as to any separate evidences of literary spirit in Emerson's prose, we note

a

a

I. The Poetic Element. At times, it takes the form of the graphic or picturesque, the pictorial or imaginative, expression of ideas. It is not our purpose to discuss. here, the poetry of Mr. Emerson as a distinctive form of literary art. It is in point, however, to affirm, that the best function fulfilled by his poetry is seen in the effect that it had upon the tone and spirit of his prose. It gave to his prose

poetic flavor that so much of it possesses, so

a

that it is not aside from truth to say, that Mr. Emerson's best appearance as a poet, is in his prose, and not in his verse. Hence, the frequent recurrence, especially in his literary essays, of passages of marked poetic beauty, as in the following, “The Gothic cathedral is a Missionary in stone”; “Character is like an acrostic-read it forward, backward or across, it still spells the same thing”; · When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn,” and, so, on. Some of the most satisfactory essays he has written are those which deal with Beauty, as a faculty and sensibility; as mental, moral and æsthetic in its type; as defying definition, and, yet, as everywhere present and primarily essential to human happiness. He calls it “the pilot of the young soul"; "the form under which

” “ the intellect prefers to study the world,” and exalts the person and charms of womanhood, in that beauty, as a quality, is presumptively identified therewith.

Not infrequently, this poetic element is the direct expression of a high order of imaginative power, -of that “vision and faculty divine” whose exercise is by no means confined to the one department of verse. He calls the imagination “the precursor of the reason"; "the cardinal human power"; the source of the religions and literatures of the world; the explanation of all true eloquence; the corrective of all lower and sensual tendency.

If we make the distinction between the philoso

[ocr errors]

phic and the poetic imagination, the prose of Emerson evinces the presence of each, and in such unity of effect that it would be impossible and undesirable to disjoin them. As we have seen, his philosophy itself was Platonic, and, therefore, poetic, while his poetry, in turn, should we study it, would be found to be philosophic. We are speaking, however, of imagination in the literary sense, and too little emphasis, as we believe, has been placed upon it as manifested in the writings before us. He loved the Oriental mind largely because of its imaginative type. He loved to look an abstract truth in the eye until it became more and more palpable and concrete. His paragraphs evince an ever stronger effort to peer into the unseen; to tread paths hitherto untrodden; to soar with Milton into the highest heaven or, with Dante, to descend to the lowest hell, if so be truths unknown to the logical understanding and unprovable by logical process, might be seen in their own light, and put to silence all misgiving. Hence it is that it is not difficult to find in these essays passages of undoubted sublimity, as in the papers on Plato and Swedenborg, Shakespeare and Goethe; as in the discussion of some abstract theme, such as, “Heroism" or “History."

History.” The cast of his character was majestic. The order of his mind was majestic. It was morally impossible for him to descend from the high plane of his thought and life to any lower levels, so that when he came to the act of written expression, he must present “high thinking” in

66

high forms, and illustrate in every line and page that elevation of spirit and sentiment on which Longinus so insists.

2. If Dignity of style is essentially literary, Emerson furnished it above measure. It was a family trait, as seen so conspicuously in his brother Charles. It was a personal and constitutional bias of mind. His demeanor was marked by a kind of classical decorum-by that lofty “urbanity” of presence and bearing which subdued all that was unrefined and gave a courtly character to the place and hour. That immoderateness of speech and statement which in his paper on “ The Superlative,' he so justly condemns, was especially revolting to him, in that it was so out of keeping with that lofty and dispassionate reserve which is one of the marks of a man of letters and makes him a guide to his fellows. Hyperbole, he would argue, was unliterary because undignified. Judicious authors never italicize.

3. In perfect consistency with this classical reserve, we often find in Emerson's prose a good degree of Personal Pleasantry—a kind of literary abandon, as he would call it, quite essential to the fullest utterance of the truth and of the personality of the writer. In this respect, the style of Emerson is flexible and vivacious; never commonplace and trivial, though often conversational and entertaining. In

some of his most erudite and elaborate papers, while he has never descended, he has often condescended, and we see the man, the teacher

« ZurückWeiter »