Abbildungen der Seite

and the friend, as well as the philosopher. His paper on “The Superlative " is replete with this humorous banter, not unmixed with satire and allusion. He tells young men anxious to understand Carlyle, " that it needs something more than a clean shirt and reading German to visit him"; “Chemistry,” he says, " has taught us that we eat gas, drink gas, tread on gas and are gas." He contrasts the homely speech of the village blacksmith or the farmer with the involved periods of the public functionary who "would speak the whole English language three times over” in one speech. “The clergyman who would live in the city,” he writes, may have piety, but must have taste.” In his essays on Thoreau and the BrookFarm experiment, he misses no opportunity of exposing visionary schemes and holding his readers to plain New England sense.

We prize this open-handed, colloquial manner of Emerson all the more because it is unexpected, and we meet a manly, unconventional, practical author where we expected to meet a scholar and recluse.

These literary qualities conceded, however, we are confronted, at once, by the critics, who are slow to attribute to Emerson's prose any high degree of literary excellence. We are told by Mr. Arnold, as their mouthpiece, that he is not to be placed “among the great writers or the great men of letters”; that his prose has not “the requisite wholeness of good tissue"; that it is not " by a kind of native necessity, true and sound "

in a word, “that he has not a genius and an instinct for style." This criticism is, partly, true and, partly, misleading. In speaking of the literary character of Emerson's prose, we have purposely used the words, tone and spirit, and have insisted that the prose is pervaded by literary principles; that its tendency or drift is literary; that there is a something in it and about it that must be called by this name; that it is the product of a man and a mind conversant with truth in its literary features and with men of letters as a class; that in theme, discussion and motive, there is the presence of taste, beauty imagination, poetic appreciation, culture. All this is true.

If, however, we extend the word literary as applied, and rightly applied, to the outer form of the prose—to its visible dress and texture, Mr. Arnold and the critics are mainly right. Mr. Emerson's prose is literary in tone. In technique, it is not. There is a lack of verbal and structural finish, as seen, for example, in Mr. Arnold's prose or in that of Mr. Lowell. Dr. Holmes is thus obliged to speak

. of his "archaisms and unusual phrases ”; of his “semi-detached sentences." We are told that his grammar is often embarrassed,” while the author himself is frank enough to speak of his “impassable paragraphs, each sentence an infinitely repellant particle." There is such a thing as a sense of form

-a keen and delicate appreciation of fitness in word and sentence.

If we may be allowed so to express it, Emerson's

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

prose is æsthetic, but not artistic. It evinces taste and beauty, though these are not always embodied in the most appropriate external dress. In the sense in which De Quincey and Macaulay and Addison are literary, he is not, and it is this that Mr. Arnold must mean when he says that he had not “an instinct for style "—that he was not an artist in the domain of letters. If Mr. Arnold means more than this, we must demur to his critical judgment. Though not literary in one sense, in another and an equally significant sense, Mr. Emerson is so.

Literature, we insist, is more than word and phrase. It is these, with the thought and the thinker behind them. Style is more than outer form and finish. It is these, with the inner form beneath them. A writer and a man of letters is more than a verbal artist. He is an exponent of mind and heart, conscience and taste, and expresses on the page, in vital manner, the deepest impulses of his soul.

Emerson's prose is open to criticism at the hands of the technical critic, as failing, at times, to present the thought in faultless, verbal dress. To this extent he is unliterary, but not beyond this, and when we say that he wrote literary English Prose as Bacon and Milton wrote it ; as Coleridge and Carlyle and Thomas Arnold wrote it, we give him a place, and a rightful place, among “great writers and great men of letters."

It remains, therefore, to inquire as to-His True


Position in American Litcrature and Life. It is clear that Mr. Emerson cannot be justly called a popular writer, as Macaulay and Lamb, Irving and Lowell are popular. The type of his mind and art is too intellectual and ethical to admit of it. His circle of readers and admirers will always be limited, constituting what may be termed-a cult or an order—as represented by the Concord School, with its defined adherents. In his paper on “Spiritual Laws,” when speaking of literary patronage and reputation, he remarks, “Only those books come down which deserve to last. There are not in the world, at any one time, more than a dozen persons who read and understand Plato, yet to every generation those come duly down, for the sake of these few, as if God brought them in his hand.” Mr. Emerson himself did not anticipate general patronage. He was wise enough to know the fact and the reason of his own literary limitations, and is now receiving, at the hands of the modern public, just what he expected to receivefit audience, though few.” As Mr. Arnold states it, “ He is the friend and aider of those who live in the spirit.”

If we inquire definitely as to his mission and ministry among us, we answer that it was in the high direction of mental stimulus and ethical ennobling.

“ His was the task, and his the lordly gift,

Our eyes, our hearts bent earthward, to uplift."

Among what he calls “The Uses of Great Men, no use could be grander, and no one has more devotedly and successfully fulfilled it. There is a sense, indeed, in which Emerson's personal and literary influence may be said to be unlimited, in that it has so entered into the structure and higher habit of modern American life as to have become a substantive part of it, incapable of separation. As Dr. Holmes suggests, this is a far more important fact and far more to the permanent renown of any author, than that he should have written a poem or an essay or a series of essays, widely current and popular. Better by far to have impressed himself as an author indelibly upon the mind and heart of a generation and for all time than to have done this or that in the line of specific literary work. Modern English and American Literature will never lose its Emersonian impression, and when we say that, we say something that designates, as nothing else can, the intrinsic excellence of our author's work. Not only did he impress men, here and there, as he did Carlyle and Coleridge, Channing and Lowell, but he stamped the seal of his personality as a man and a writer upon his age and nation so as to give them new direction and impulse. His influence, as has been said, is not only visible on the surface of our thought, but "ploughed into it.” One of the distinguishing marks of his genius is seen in the fact that he had more influence on his age than his age had on him, and Matthew Arnold, with highest eulogium, classes

« ZurückWeiter »