Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Emerson the Rhapsodist
By Amos Bronson Alcott (17991888)
[From the Essay presented to Emerson on his birthday, 25 May, 1865.]
SEE our Ion standing there,his audience, his manuscript, before him,himself an auditor, as he reads, of the Genius sitting behind him, and to whom he defers, eagerly catching the words,the words,as if the accents were first reaching his ears too, and entrancing alike oracle and auditor. We admire the stately sense, the splendor of diction, and are surprised as we listen. Even his hesitancy between the delivery of his periods, his perilous passages from paragraph to paragraph of manuscript, we have almost learned to like, as if he were but sorting his keys meanwhile for opening his cabinets; the spring of locks following, himself seeming as eager as any of us to get sight of his specimens, as they come forth from their proper drawers; and we wait willingly till his gem is out glittering; admire the setting, too, scarcely less than the jewel itself. The magic minstrel and speaker! whose rhetoric, voiced as by organ-stops, delivers the sentiment from his breast in cadences peculiar to himself; now hurling it forth on the ear, echoing; then, as his mood and matter invite it, dying like
He works his miracles with it, as Hermes did, his voice conducting the sense alike to eye and ear by its lyrical movement and refraining melody. So his compositions affect us, not as logic linked in syllogisms, but as voluntaries rather, or preludes, in which one is not tied to any design of air, but may vary his key or note at pleasure, as if improvised without any particular scope of argument; each period, each paragraph, being a perfect note in itself, however it may chance chime with its accompaniments in the piece; as a waltz of wandering stars, a dance of Hesperus with Orion. His rhetoric dazzles by circuits, contrasts, antitheses; Imagination, as in all sprightly minds, being his wand of power. He comes along his own paths, too, and always in his own fashion. What though he build his piers downwards from the firmament to the tumbling tides, and so throw his radiant span across the fissures of his argument, and himself pass over the frolic arches,Ariel-wise,is the skill less admirable, the masonry less secure for its singularity? So his books are best read as irregular writings, in which the sentiment is, by his enthusiasm, transfused throughout the piece, telling on the mind in cadences of a current under-song, and giving the impression of a connected wholewhich it seldom is,such is the rhapsodists cunning in its structure and delivery.