|Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882). The Complete Works. 1904.|
Vol. V. English Traits
|I. First Visit to England|
|I HAVE 1 been twice in England. In 1833, on my return from a short tour in Sicily, Italy and France, I crossed from Boulogne and landed in London at the Tower stairs. It was a dark Sunday morning; there were few people in the streets, and I remember the pleasure of that first walk on English ground, with my companion, an American artist, 2 from the Tower up through Cheapside and the Strand to a house in Russell Square, whither we had been recommended to good chambers. For the first time for many months we were forced to check the saucy habit of travellers criticism, as we could no longer speak aloud in the streets without being understood. The shop-signs spoke our language; our country names were on the door-plates, and the public and private buildings wore a more native and wonted front.|| 1|
| Like most young men at that time, I was much indebted to the men of Edinburgh and of the Edinburgh Review,to Jeffrey, Mackintosh, Hallam, and to Scott, Playfair and De Quincey; 3 and my narrow and desultory reading had inspired the wish to see the faces of three or four writers,Coleridge, Wordsworth, Landor, De Quincey, and the latest and strongest contributor to the critical journals, Carlyle; and I suppose if I had sifted the reasons that led me to Europe, when I was ill and was advised to travel, it was mainly the attraction of these persons. If Goethe had been still living I might have wandered into Germany also. Besides those I have named (for Scott was dead), there was not in Britain the man living whom I cared to behold, unless it were the Duke of Wellington, whom I afterwards saw at Westminster Abbey at the funeral of Wilberforce. 4 The young scholar fancies it happiness enough to live with people who can give an inside to the world; without reflecting that they are prisoners, too, of their own thought, and cannot apply themselves to yours. The conditions of literary success are almost destructive of the best social power, as they do not leave that frolic liberty which only can encounter a companion on the best terms. It is probable you left some obscure comrade at a tavern, or in the farms, with right mother-wit and equality to life, when you crossed sea and land to play bo-peep with celebrated scribes. I have, however, found writers superior to their books, and I cling to my first belief that a strong head will dispose fast enough of these impediments and give one the satisfaction of reality, the sense of having been met, and a larger horizon.|| 2|
| On looking over the diary of my journey in 1833, I find nothing to publish in my memoranda of visits to places. But I have copied the few notes I made of visits to persons, as they respect parties quite too good and too transparent to the whole world to make it needful to affect any prudery of suppression about a few hints of those bright personalities.|| 3|
| At Florence, chief among artists I found Horatio Greenough, the American sculptor. 5 His face was so handsome and his person so well formed that he might be pardoned, if, as was alleged, the face of his Medora and the figure of a colossal Achilles in clay, were idealizations of his own. Greenough was a superior man, ardent and eloquent, and all his opinions had elevation and magnanimity. He believed that the Greeks had wrought in schools or fraternities,the genius of the master imparting his design to his friends and inflaming them with it, and when his strength was spent, a new hand with equal heat continued the work; and so by relays, until it was finished in every part with equal fire. This was necessary in so refractory a material as stone; and he thought art would never prosper until we left our shy jealous ways and worked in society as they. All his thoughts breathed the same generosity. He was an accurate and a deep man. He was a votary of the Greeks, and impatient of Gothic art. His paper on Architecture, published in 1843, announced in advance the leading thoughts of Mr. Ruskin on the morality in architecture, notwithstanding the antagonism in their views of the history of art. I have a private letter from him,later, but respecting the same period,in which he roughly sketches his own theory. Here is my theory of structure: A scientific arrangement of spaces and forms to functions and to site; an emphasis of features proportioned to their gradated importance in function; color and ornament to be decided and arranged and varied by strictly organic laws, having a distinct reason for each decision; the entire and immediate banishment of all make-shift and make-believe.|| 4|
| Greenough brought me, through a common friend, an invitation from Mr. Landor, who lived at San Domenica di Fiesole. On the 15th May I dined with Mr. Landor. I found him noble and courteous, living in a cloud of pictures at his Villa Gherardesca, a fine house commanding a beautiful landscape. I had inferred from his books, or magnified from some anecdotes, an impression of Achillean wrath,an untamable petulance. I do not know whether the imputation were just or not, but certainly on this May day his courtesy veiled that haughty mind and he was the most patient and gentle of hosts. He praised the beautiful cyclamen which grows all about Florence; he admired Washington; talked of Wordsworth, Byron, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher. To be sure, he is decided in his opinions, likes to surprise, and is well content to impress, if possible, his English whim upon the immutable past. No great man ever had a great son, if Philip and Alexander be not an exception; and Philip he calls the greater man. In art, he loves the Greeks, and in sculpture, them only. He prefers the Venus to everything else, and, after that, the head of Alexander, in the gallery here. He prefers John of Bologna to Michael Angelo; in painting, Raffaelle, and shares the growing taste for Perugino and the early masters. The Greek histories he thought the only good; and after them, Voltaires. I could not make him praise Mackintosh, nor my more recent friends; Montaigne very cordially,and Charron also, which seemed undiscriminating. He thought Degerando indebted to Lucas on Happiness and Lucas on Holiness! 6 He pestered me with Southey; but who is Southey?|| 5|
| He invited me to breakfast on Friday. On Friday I did not fail to go, and this time with Greenough. He entertained us at once with reciting half a dozen hexameter lines of Julius Cæsars!from Donatus, he said. 7 He glorified Lord Chesterfield more than was necessary, and undervalued Burke, and undervalued Socrates; designated as three of the greatest of men, Washington, Phocion and Timoleon,much as our pomologists, in their lists, select the three or the six best pears for a small orchard;and did not even omit to remark the similar termination of their names. A great man, he said, should make great sacrifices and kill his hundred oxen without knowing whether they would be consumed by gods and heroes, or whether the flies would eat them. I had visited Professor Amici, who had shown me his microscopes, magnifying (it was said) two thousand diameters; and I spoke of the uses to which they were applied. Landor despised entomology, yet, in the same breath, said, the sublime was in a grain of dust. I suppose I teased him about recent writers, but he professed never to have heard of Herschel, not even by name. One room was full of pictures, which he likes to show, especially one piece, standing before which he said he would give fifty guineas to the man that would swear it was a Domenichino. I was more curious to see his library, but Mr. H, one of the guests, told me that Mr. Landor gives away his books and has never more than a dozen at a time in his house.|| 6|
| Mr. Landor carries to its height the love of freak which the English delight to indulge, as if to signalize their commanding freedom. He has a wonderful brain, despotic, violent and inexhaustible, meant for a soldier, by what chance converted to letters; in which there is not a style nor a tint not known to him, yet with an English appetite for action and heroes. The thing done avails, and not what is said about it. An original sentence, a step forward, is worth more than all the censures. Landor is strangely undervalued in England; usually ignored and sometimes savagely attacked in the Reviews. The criticism may be right or wrong, and is quickly forgotten; but year after year the scholar must still go back to Landor for a multitude of elegant sentences; for wisdom, wit, and indignation that are unforgetable. 8|| 7|
| From London, on the 5th August, I went to Highgate, and wrote a note to Mr. Coleridge, requesting leave to pay my respects to him. 9 It was near noon. Mr. Coleridge sent a verbal message that he was in bed, but if I would call after one oclock he would see me. I returned at one, and he appeared, a short, thick old man, with bright blue eyes and fine clear complexion, leaning on his cane. He took snuff freely, which presently soiled his cravat and neat black suit. He asked whether I knew Allston, and spoke warmly of his merits and doings when he knew him in Rome; what a master of the Titianesque he was, etc., etc. He spoke of Dr. Channing. It was an unspeakable misfortune that he should have turned out a Unitarian after all. On this, he burst into a declamation on the folly and ignorance of Unitarianism,its high unreasonableness; and taking up Bishop Waterlands book, 10 which lay on the table, he read with vehemence two or three pages written by himself in the fly-leaves,passages, too, which, I believe, are printed in the Aids to Reflection. When he stopped to take breath, I interposed that whilst I highly valued all his explanations, I was bound to tell him that I was born and bred a Unitarian. Yes, he said, I supposed so; and continued as before. It was a wonder that after so many ages of unquestioning acquiescence in the doctrine of St. Paul,the doctrine of the Trinity, which was also according to Philo Judæus the doctrine of the Jews before Christ,this handful of Priestleians should take on themselves to deny it, etc., etc. He was very sorry that Dr. Channing, a man to whom he looked up,no, to say that he looked up to him would be to speak falsely, but a man whom he looked at with so much interest,should embrace such views. When he saw Dr. Channing he had hinted to him that he was afraid he loved Christianity for what was lovely and excellent,he loved the good in it, and not the true;And I tell you, sir, that I have known ten persons who loved the good, for one person who loved the true; but it is a far greater virtue to love the true for itself alone, than to love the good for itself alone. He (Coleridge) knew all about Unitarianism perfectly well, because he had once been a Unitarian and knew what quackery it was. He had been called the rising star of Unitarianism. He went on defining, or rather refining: The Trinitarian doctrine was realism; the idea of God was not essential, but super-essential; talked of trinism and tetrakism and much more, of which I only caught this, that the will was that by which a person is a person; because, if one should push me in the street, and so I should force the man next me into the kennel, I should at once exclaim, I did not do it, sir, meaning it was not my will. And this also, that if you should insist on your faith here in England, and I on mine, mine would be the hotter side of the fagot.|| 8|
| I took advantage of a pause to say that he had many readers of all religious opinions in America, and I proceeded to inquire if the extract from the Independents pamphlet, in the third volume of the Friend, were a veritable quotation. He replied that it was really taken from a pamphlet in his possession entitled A Protest of one of the Independents, or something to that effect. I told him how excellent I thought it and how much I wished to see the entire work. Yes, he said, the man was a chaos of truths, but lacked the knowledge that God was a God of order. Yet the passage would no doubt strike you more in the quotation than in the original, for I have filtered it.|| 9|
| When I rose to go, he said, I do not know whether you care about poetry, but I will repeat some verses I lately made on my baptismal anniversary, and he recited with strong emphasis, standing, ten or twelve lines beginning,|
| ||Born unto God in Christ|| 10|
| He inquired where I had been travelling; and on learning that I had been in Malta and Sicily, he compared one island with the other, repeating what he had said to the Bishop of London when he returned from that country, that Sicily was an excellent school of political economy; for, in any town there, it only needed to ask what the government enacted, and reverse that, to know what ought to be done; it was the most felicitously opposite legislation to anything good and wise. There were only three things which the government had brought into that garden of delights, namely, itch, pox and famine. Whereas in Malta, the force of law and mind was seen, in making that barren rock of semi-Saracen inhabitants the seat of population and plenty. Going out, he showed me in the next apartment a picture of Allstons, and told me that Montague, a picture-dealer, once came to see him, and glancing towards this, said, Well, you have got a picture! thinking it the work of an old master; afterwards, Montague, still talking with his back to the canvas, put up his hand and touched it, and exclaimed, By Heaven! this picture is not ten years old:so delicate and skilful was that mans touch.|| 11|
| I was in his company for about an hour, but find it impossible to recall the largest part of his discourse, which was often like so many printed paragraphs in his book,perhaps the same,so readily did he fall into certain commonplaces. As I might have foreseen, the visit was rather a spectacle than a conversation, of no use beyond the satisfaction of my curiosity. He was old and preoccupied, and could not bend to a new companion and think with him.|| 12|
| From Edinburgh I went to the Highlands. 11 On my return I came from Glasgow to Dumfries, and being intent on delivering a letter which I had brought from Rome, inquired for Craigenputtock. It was a farm in Nithsdale, in the parish of Dunscore, sixteen miles distant. No public coach passed near it, so I took a private carriage from the inn. I found the house amid desolate heathery hills, where the lonely scholar nourished his mighty heart. 12 Carlyle was a man from his youth, an author who did not need to hide from his readers, and as absolute a man of the world, unknown and exiled on that hill-farm, as if holding on his own terms what is best in London. He was tall and gaunt, with a cliff-like brow, 13 self-possessed and holding his extraordinary powers of conversation in easy command; clinging to his northern accent with evident relish; full of lively anecdote and with a streaming humor which floated every thing he looked upon. His talk playfully exalting the familiar objects, put the companion at once into an acquaintance with his Lars and Lemurs, and it was very pleasant to learn what was predestined to be a pretty mythology. Few were the objects and lonely the man; not a person to speak to within sixteen miles except the minister of Dunscore; so that books inevitably made his topics.|| 13|
| He had names of his own for all the matters familiar to his discourse. Blackwoods was the sand magazine; Frasers nearer approach to possibility of life was the mud magazine; a piece of road near by, that marked some failed enterprise, was the grave of the last sixpence. When too much praise of any genius annoyed him he professed hugely to admire the talent shown by his pig. He had spent much time and contrivance in confining the poor beast to one enclosure in his pen, but pig, by great strokes of judgment, had found out how to let a board down, and had foiled him. For all that he still thought man the most plastic little fellow in the planet, and he liked Neros death, Qualis artifex pereo! better than most history. 14 He worships a man that will manifest any truth to him. At one time he had inquired and read a good deal about America. Landors principle was mere rebellion; and that he feared was the American principle. The best thing he knew of that country was that in it a man can have meat for his labor. He had read in Stewarts book that when he inquired in a New York hotel for the Boots, he had been shown across the street and had found Mungo in his own house dining on roast turkey.|| 14|
| We talked of books. Plato he does not read, and he disparaged Socrates; and, when pressed, persisted in making Mirabeau a hero. Gibbon he called the splendid bridge from the old world to the new. His own reading had been multifarious. Tristram Shandy was one of his first books after Robinson Crusoe, and Robertsons America an early favorite. Rousseaus Confessions had discovered to him that he was not a dunce; and it was now ten years since he had learned German, by the advice of a man who told him he would find in that language what he wanted.|| 15|
| He took despairing or satirical views of literature at this moment; recounted the incredible sums paid in one year by the great booksellers for puffing. Hence it comes that no newspaper is trusted now, no books are bought, and the booksellers are on the eve of bankruptcy.|| 16|
| He still returned to English pauperism, the crowded country, the selfish abdication by public men of all that public persons should perform. Government should direct poor men what to do. Poor Irish folk come wandering over these moors. My dame makes it a rule to give to every son of Adam bread to eat, and supplies his wants to the next house. But here are thousands of acres which might give them all meat, and nobody to bid these poor Irish go to the moor and till it. They burned the stacks and so found a way to force the rich people to attend to them.|| 17|
| We went out to walk over long hills, and looked at Criffel, then without his cap, and down into Wordsworths country. There we sat down and talked of the immortality of the soul. It was not Carlyles fault that we talked on that topic, for he had the natural disinclination of every nimble spirit to bruise itself against walls, and did not like to place himself where no step can be taken. But he was honest and true, and cognizant of the subtile links that bind ages together, and saw how every event affects all the future. Christ died on the tree; that built Dunscore kirk yonder; that brought you and me together. Time has only a relative existence. 15|| 18|
| He was already turning his eyes towards London with a scholars appreciation. London is the heart of the world, he said, wonderful only from the mass of human beings. He liked the huge machine. Each keeps its own round. The bakers boy brings muffins to the window at a fixed hour every day, and that is all the Londoner knows or wishes to know on the subject. But it turned out good men. He named certain individuals, especially one man of letters, his friend, the best mind he knew, whom London had well served. 16|| 19|
| On the 28th August I went to Rydal Mount, to pay my respects to Mr. Wordsworth. His daughters called in their father, a plain, elderly, white-haired man, not prepossessing, and disfigured by green goggles. He sat down, and talked with great simplicity. He had just returned from a journey. His health was good, but he had broken a tooth by a fall, when walking with two lawyers, and had said that he was glad it did not happen forty years ago; whereupon they had praised his philosophy.|| 20|
| He had much to say of America, the more that it gave occasion for his favorite topic,that society is being enlightened by a superficial tuition, out of all proportion to its being restrained by moral culture. Schools do no good. Tuition is not education. He thinks more of the education of circumstances than of tuition. T is not question whether there are offences of which the law takes cognizance, but whether there are offences of which the law does not take cognizance. Sin is what he fears,and how society is to escape without gravest mischiefs from this source. He has even said, what seemed a paradox, that they needed a civil war in America, to teach the necessity of knitting the social ties stronger. There may be, he said, in America some vulgarity in manner, but that s not important. That comes of the pioneer state of things. But I fear they are too much given to the making of money; and secondly, to politics; that they make political distinction the end and not the means. And I fear they lack a class of men of leisure,in short, of gentlemen,to give a tone of honor to the community. I am told that things are boasted of in the second class of society there, which, in England,God knows, are done in England every day, but would never be spoken of. In America I wish to know not how many churches or schools, but what newspapers? My friend Colonel Hamilton, at the foot of the hill, who was a year in America, assures me that the newspapers are atrocious, and accuse members of Congress of stealing spoons! He was against taking off the tax on newspapers in England,which the reformers represent as a tax upon knowledge,for this reason, that they would be inundated with base prints. He said he talked on political aspects, for he wished to impress on me and all good Americans to cultivate the moral, the conservative, etc., etc., and never to call into action the physical strength of the people, as had just now been done in England in the Reform Bill,a thing prophesied by Delolme. He alluded once or twice to his conversation with Dr. Channing, who had recently visited him (laying his hand on a particular chair in which the Doctor had sat).|| 21|
| The conversation turned on books. Lucretius he esteems a far higher poet than Virgil; not in his system, which is nothing, but in his power of illustration. 17 Faith is necessary to explain anything and to reconcile the foreknowledge of God with human evil. Of Cousin (whose lectures we had all been reading in Boston), he knew only the name.|| 22|
| I inquired if he had read Carlyles critical articles and translations. He said he thought him sometimes insane. He proceeded to abuse Goethes Wilhelm Meister heartily. It was full of all manner of fornication. It was like the crossing of flies in the air. He had never gone farther than the first part; so disgusted was he that he threw the book across the room. I deprecated this wrath, and said what I could for the better parts of the book, and he courteously promised to look at it again. Carlyle he said wrote most obscurely. He was clever and deep, but he defied the sympathies of every body. Even Mr. Coleridge wrote more clearly, though he had always wished Coleridge would write more to be understood. He led me out into his garden, and showed me the gravel walk in which thousands of his lines were composed. His eyes are much inflamed. This is no loss except for reading, because he never writes prose, and of poetry he carries even hundreds of lines in his head before writing them. He had just returned from a visit to Staffa, and within three days had made three sonnets on Fingals Cave, and was composing a fourth when he was called in to see me. He said, If you are interested in my verses perhaps you will like to hear these lines. I gladly assented, and he recollected himself for a few moments and then stood forth and repeated, one after the other, the three entire sonnets with great animation. I fancied the second and third more beautiful than his poems are wont to be. The third is addressed to the flowers, which, he said, especially the ox-eye daisy, are very abundant on the top of the rock. The second alludes to the name of the cave, which is Cave of Music; the first to the circumstance of its being visited by the promiscuous company of the steamboat.|| 23|
| This recitation was so unlooked for and surprising,he, the old Wordsworth, standing apart, and reciting to me in a garden-walk, like a school-boy declaiming,that I at first was near to laugh; but recollecting myself, that I had come thus far to see a poet and he was chanting poems to me, I saw that he was right and I was wrong, and gladly gave myself up to hear. I told him how much the few printed extracts had quickened the desire to possess his unpublished poems. He replied he never was in haste to publish; partly because he corrected a good deal, and every alteration is ungraciously received after printing; but what he had written would be printed, whether he lived or died. I said Tintern Abbey appeared to be the favorite poem with the public, but more contemplative readers preferred the first books of the Excursion, and the Sonnets. He said, Yes, they are better. He preferred such of his poems as touched the affections, to any others; for whatever is didacticwhat theories of society, and so onmight perish quickly; but whatever combined a truth with an affection was [Greek], 18 good to-day and good forever. He cited the sonnet, On the feelings of a highminded Spaniard, which he preferred to any other (I so understood him), and the Two Voices; and quoted, with evident pleasure, the verses addressed To the Skylark. In this connection he said of the Newtonian theory that it might yet be superseded and forgotten; and Daltons atomic theory.|| 24|
| When I prepared to depart he said he wished to show me what a common person in England could do, and he led me into the enclosure of his clerk, a young man to whom he had given this slip of ground, which was laid out, or its natural capabilities shown, with much taste. He then said he would show me a better way towards the inn; and he walked a good part of a mile, talking and ever and anon stopping short to impress the word or the verse, and finally parted from me with great kindness and returned across the fields.|| 25|
| Wordsworth honored himself by his simple adherence to truth, and was very willing not to shine; but he surprised by the hard limits of his thought. To judge from a single conversation, he made the impression of a narrow and very English mind; of one who paid for his rare elevation by general tameness and conformity. Off his own beat, his opinions were of no value. It is not very rare to find persons loving sympathy and ease, who expiate their departure from the common in one direction, by their conformity in every other. 19|| 26|
|Note 1. When Mr. Emerson first sailed for Europe he was, no doubt, urged by physicians to the measure to restore his shattered health, and by his friends, that his mind might be diverted by the scenes rich in beauty and association, and by the treasuries of art. Then and through life he cared little for travel for amusement; he had all the beauty and the facts that he wanted in the home horizon; but previous experience had shown him that even a rough sea-voyage was helpful, and this trip involved two, in sailing vessels. More than that, he had left his old life behind and now had opportunity to think out alone the plan of the life about to begin. Two or three men lived in Europe the courage and freshness of whose thoughts had cheered and helped him. In his sadder hours he almost wished to find a helpful Master, but his heart told him that this could not be, and thus answered the wish of his weakness:|
Journal, Rome, April 22, 1833. Our stern experience replies with the tongue of all its days. Son of Man! it saith, all giving and receiving is reciprocal; you entertain angels unawares, but they cannot impart more or higher things than you are in a state to receive, but every step of your progress affects the intercourse you hold with all others; elevates its tone, deepens its meaning, sanctifies its spirit.
But, in the loneliness of an ancient city, and beset with sad memories of home, he felt assurance of helpful and strengthening friendship soon to come. He was to find that friend in Carlyle.
The verses In Naples are sad; the last lines of those Written at Rome (see Appendix to the Poems) show hope reviving with health:
Six months before, he had written in his journal: I am cheered and instructed by this paper on Corn Law Rhymes in the Edinburgh by my Germanick new-light writer, whoever he be. He gives us confidence in our principles. He assures the truth-lover everywhere of sympathy. Blessed art that makes books, and so joins me to that stranger by this perfect railroad.
| || Generously trust|
|Thy fortunes web to the beneficent hand|
|That until now has put his world in fee|
|To thee. He watches for thee still. His love|
|Broods over thee, and as God lives in heaven,|
|However long thou walkest solitary,|
|The hour of heaven shall come, the man appear.|
A few weeks later, having found the name of the unknown champion, he writes,his sickness showing in the shade of doubt:
If Carlyle knew what an interest I have in his persistent Goodness, would it not be worth one effort more, one prayer, one mediation. But will he resist the deluge of bad example in England? One manifestation of goodness in a noble soul brings him in debt to all the beholders that he shall not betray their love and trust which he has awakened.
During his short stay in France on his way northward, of which there is no mention in English Traits, he made this entry:
Thus shall I write memoirs? A man who was no courtier, but loved men, went to Rome and there lived with boys. He came to France and in Paris lives alone, and in Paris seldom speaks. If he do not see Carlyle in Edinburgh, he may go to America without saying anything in earnest except to Cranch and to Landor.
In lonely Nithsdale he found the friend he was seeking, not the teacher, and found also, as the Spirit had said, that, even with angels found unawares, all giving and receiving is reciprocal.
That man came to see me, said Carlyle to Richard Monckton Milnes. I dont know what brought him, and we kept him one night and then he left us. I saw him go up the hill; I did nt go with him to see him descend. I preferred to watch him mount and vanish like an angel.
But it was the Carlyle that God meant, that Emerson loved, and through all the years of their livesfortunately with the ocean betweenit was this Carlyle that he regarded and addressed, not the sad prophet denouncing the world of his day.
More contemporary side-lights will be given in the notes to the pages describing their intercourse.
The young mans wish to see Wordsworth and Coleridge was gratified, but little was gained by the sight at near range of these masters of poetry and philosophy.
Journal, September, 1833. It occurs forcibly, yea, somewhat pathetically, that he who visits a man of genius out of admiration for his parts should treat him tenderly. T is odds but he will be disappointed. That is not the man of geniuss fault,he was honest and human, but the fault of his [the visitors] own ignorance of the limits of human excellence. Let him feel then that his visit was unwelcome, and that he is indebted to the tolerance and good nature of his idol, and so spare him the abuse of his own reacting feelings,the back-stroke.
At the time of his first visit to England Mr. Emerson had published nothing and of course was entirely unknown. It is said that he preached once or twice in London; if so, of course at Unitarian chapels, but of this I find no authentic record. His friend, Mr. Alexander Ireland, then of Edinburgh, to whose charge Dr. Samuel Brown, the chemical philosopher, had committed him, says in his memoirs, that he heard him deliver a discourse in the Unitarian Chapel in that city, and tells of the effect produced on his hearers. [Ralph Waldo Emerson, his Life, Genius and Writings; A Biographical Sketch. London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1882.] It is almost needless to say that nothing like it had ever been heard by them before, and many of them did not know what to make of it. The originality of his thoughts, the consummate beauty of the language in which they were clothed, the calm dignity of his bearing
and the singular directness and simplicity of his manner, free from the least shadow of dogmatic assumption, made a deep impression upon me.
The second visit to England was made under quite other conditions. Nature and the two volumes of Essays, sent at first to a few friends, had found readers in England enough to warrant publication of editions there. Mr. Emersons friends, those who knew him personally and those whom his writings had won him, wished to see him and hear his thoughts from his own lips. Mr. Ireland made Mr. William Lloyd Garrison, then returning to Boston, the bearer of a generous and urgent invitation to consider the project of a lengthened visit to England and the delivery of lectures in the chief towns, Mr. Ireland himself assuming the burden of the necessary correspondence and business arrangements. The proposal was seconded by friendly and hospitable letters from Carlyle.
He urged Mr. Emersons coming on another score. Unquestionably you would get an immense quantity of food for ideas, though perhaps not at all in the way you anticipate, in looking about among us: nay, if you even thought us stupid, there is something in the godlike indifference with which London will accept and sanction even that verdictsomething highly instructive at least.
Learning from a delayed letter that Emerson was actually on the seas, Carlyle sent with all urgency a letter to meet him on landing, saying, Know then, my Friend, that in verity your home is here
and here surely, if anywhere in the wide earth, there ought to be a brothers welcome and kind home waiting you! Yes, by Allah!
He landed in the end of October, 1847. After a short visit to Carlyle, he returned to Manchester, where lived Mr. Ireland, of whom he said, he approves himself the king of all friends and helpful agents
active, unweariable, imperturbable. Thanks to his zeal and influence through his paper, the Manchester Examiner, Mr. Emerson found arrangements made for courses in Liverpool and Manchester, and lectures in the important towns in the midland and northern counties, which occupied him until February. Mechanics institutes afforded him many of his audiences, in some respects like those of country Lyceums at home, and quite as agreeable to him as the gathering of more aristocratic hearers in London.
In February he went to Edinburgh. Mr. Ireland says, His four lectures created a great sensation in the Scottish metropolis and stirred the hearts of many independent thinkers. The orthodox of that firm stronghold of religious formalism were grieved and shocked, although Emerson, knowing the tone of feeling there, had, with the utmost delicacy, avoided such subjects as might bring him into direct contact with it.
He quotes a hearer as saying, What a quiet, calm conversation it is! It is not the seraph or burning one you see; it is the cherubic reason thinking aloud before you. It is a soul totally unsheathed you have to do with, and you ask, Is this a spirits tongue sounding on its way? so solitary and severe seems its harmony.
During this visit to Edinburgh, David Scott, the painter, whom Mr. Emerson describes as a noble Stoic sitting apart here among his rainbow allegories, insisted on his sitting for his portrait. This picture was bought, after Mr. Emersons death, by near friends, who considered the expression and attitude to be characteristic of him when lecturing, and was given to the Concord Public Library. Its somewhat hard drawing and coloring is offset in a measure by the insight of the painter, in placing the rainbow behind the figure of the apostle of hope.
In the Spring Mr. Emerson went to London and there stayed through March and April, seeing many interesting and notable people and receiving much friendly hospitality, of which much is told by Mr. Ireland in his book, and in Mr. Emersons own letters home included in Mr. Cabots Memoir. This was the stormy period of Chartist demonstrations in England, and of actual revolution in France. Though warned of possible danger, Mr. Emerson crossed the Channel and spent most of May in Paris, then in full ferment, with his friend Arthur Hugh Clough, a fellow of Oxford and author of The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich and other poems. He returned to London and gave, at the Portman Square Literary and Scientific Institute, a course of six lectures. Mr. Ireland speaks of the audience as the élite of the social and literary world of the Metropolis. Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle, the Duchess of Sutherland, Lady Byron and her daughter Ada (Lady Lovelace), the Duke of Argyll, Dr. John Carlyle, William and Mary Howitt, Douglas Jerrold, Mr. John Forster, Thackeray and many other distinguished persons were among his hearers
. During the delivery of this course a letter appeared in the London Examiner urging a repetition of it at a price sufficiently low to admit of poor literary men hearing Emerson. The writer of this letter, on behalf of poets, critics, philosophers, historians, scholars, and the other divine paupers of that class, urged that this be done because Emerson is a phenomenon whose like is not in the world, and to miss him is to lose an important part out of the nineteenth century. Mr. Emerson met this demand. He wrote home, I must make amends for my aristocratic lecturing in Edwards St. at prices which exclude all my public by reading three of my old chapters in Exeter Hall to a city association. This done, he gladly sailed for home in July.
I leave England, he wrote to Miss Margaret Fuller, with an increased respect for the Englishman. His stuff or substance seems to be the best of the world. I forgive him his pride. My respect is the more generous that I have no sympathy with him, only an admiration.
This was no doubt a true and concise statement of his feeling about the race of modern Englishmen as he met them. He admired their comeliness and strength, as fine animals, their executive ability and prowess at home and abroad; he had experienced their open hospitality. Above all, he respected their honesty and their courage, physical and moralbut he found few idealists. The remarkable honor and esteem in which he held the English has another reason. He had been from childhood their debtor. When he thought of the English it was the English from Alfreds time onward. In books he had found his friends and his delight, and there were almost no American books. In the nursery he began with Miss Edgeworth and Bunyan, went on to Shakspeare, Milton, and Spenser, knew Homer through Chapman and Pope, owed Montaigne to Cottons racy English; Scott and Byron had carried him into realms of romance; as a boy he had rejoiced in Berkeleys idealism, and the poems of the holy Herbert. Gibbons majestic chapters and the eloquence of Burke had stirred him. Bacon and Newton aroused his admiration, Coleridge had enlightened him, and, last, in Wordsworth, Landor, and especially Carlyle he had found thought and stimulus and advancing courage.
The English authors represented England for him, and through them he knew of their men of action, whether War-wick or Drake, Strafford or Cromwell or Hastings.
After Mr. Emersons return, while preparing Representative Men for the press, he was reading lectures on England, Anglo-Saxon, Norseman and English Influence on Modern Civilization, English Poetry, France or Urbanity, The Anglo-American, and thus gradually brought his new material into shape for publication in English Traits.
The book appeared in 1856. Carlyle thus welcomed it: I got your Book by post in the Highlands; and had such a day over it as falls rarely to my lot! Not for seven years and more have I got hold of such a Book;Book by a real man, with eyes in his head; nobleness, wisdom, humor, and many other things in the heart of him. Such Books do not turn up often in the decade, in the century. In fact I believe it to be worth all the Books ever written by New England upon Old. Franklin might have written such a thing (in his own way); no other since! We do very well with it here, and the wise part of us best. [back]
|Note 2. Mr. Wall, a young artist of New Bedford, with whom he had crossed the Simplon from Italy. The copy of Michael Angelos Fates, which always hung in Mr. Emersons study, was painted by Mr. Wall. [back]|
|Note 3. Scott and Mackintosh had died in the previous year, and apparently not until his visit in 1847 did he meet Jeffrey, De Quincey, or Hallam. In the letters quoted in Mr. Cabots Memoir of Emerson, the interesting account of his meeting with the first two is given. De Quincey, then over sixty years of age, with a very handsome face,
a very gentle old man speaking with the greatest deliberation and softness, and so refined in speech and manners as to make one quite indifferent to his extremely plain and poor dress, came, wet through and muddy, having walked ten miles in the storm, to dine with Mr. Emerson at the invitation of Mrs. Crowe. He later invited Mr. Emerson to dine with him and his daughters, and attended his lecture. [back]|
|Note 4. William Wilberforce, the friend and helper of Pitt, a member of Parliament from Hull. He introduced the bill for the abolition of the slave trade, and for years championed the measure against the planters and merchants until its final success. [back]|
|Note 5. Horatio Greenough was born in Boston in 1805. His fine personality and his high thought interested Mr. Emerson when they met in Italy and through the sculptors short life. He made the statue of Washington in front of the National Capitol and many other good works of sculpture, and also designed Bunker Hill Monument. [back]|
|Note 6. Pierre Charron (15141603), a French philosopher of note and a Roman Catholic theologian. He wrote the Traité des Trois Vérités and the Traité de la Sagesse. Mr. Emersons journals in 1830 show that he had been looking up the beliefs of Heracleitus, Xenophanes, Empedocles, and other ancient philosophers in De Gérandos Histoire Comparée des Systèmes de Philosophie. Richard Lucas, D. D. (16481715), wrote Enquiry after Happiness and Practical Christianity, or an Account of the Holiness which the Gospel enjoins. [back]|
|Note 7. A friend informs me that the following hexameters of Julius Cæsar, the only specimen of his verse that we have, are found in an extract from the life of Terentius by Suetonius, preserved by Donatus in the introduction to his commentary on this poet. (Deperditorum Librorum Reliquiæ.)|
Thou also art placed, and rightly, among the highest, O halved Menander [Dimidiate is difficult to render in English. It may mean diminished, or in miniature, or refer to the fact that Terence borrowed freely from Menander.], lover of clear language, and oh that the comic gift had been added to thy graceful writing, so that thy power might be held in honor equal to the Greek, nor thou lie neglected on this account. This one thing I regret, and mourn thy lack in it, O Terence. [back]
| ||Tu quoque, tu in summis, o dimidiate Menander,|
|Poneris, et merito, puri sermonis amator.|
|Lenibus atque utinam scriptis adjuncta foret vis|
|Comica, ut æquato virtus polleret honore|
|Cum Græcis, neve hac despectus parte jaceres!|
|Unum hoc mæror ac doleo tibi deesse, Terenti.|
|Note 8. It is fair to remember that fifty years ago there seemed small chance that an American book would find many readers in England, and also that the American public for whom it was written was a small number of persons, reverent towards English writers. The book, however, reached Landor twenty-three years after the conversation reported, and he published a commentary entitled An Open Letter from W. S. Landor to R. W. Emerson (printed at Bath) [This pamphlet of twenty pages of comment on some five pages of English Traits may be found reprinted in Literary Anecdotes of the Nineteenth Century, vol. ii., edited by W. Robertson Nicoll, M. A., LL. D., and Thomas J. Wise. London, 1896.], some of the corrections in which of Mr. Emersons statements it is proper to give below. The whole pamphlet is very entertaining in its radical and revolutionary vehemence, yet, considering the temper of the man, singularly respectful and friendly.|
In a letter to Carlyle in 1841 Mr. Emerson spoke thus of his value of Landor:
Many years ago I have read a hundred fine memorable things in the Imaginary Conversations, though I knew well the faults of that book, and the Pericles and Aspasia within two years has given me delight. I was introduced to the Man in Florence
and his speech I remember was below his writing. I love the rich variety of his mind, his proud tastes, his penetrating glances, and the poetic loftiness of his sentiment, which rises now and then to the meridian, though with the flight, I own, rather of the rocket than an orb, and terminates sometimes by a sudden tumble.
In the following extracts are the more important corrections and comments which Landor made on Mr. Emersons report, in the Open Letter:
MY DEAR SIR:
Your English Traits have given me great pleasure; and they would have done so, even if I had been treated by you with less favour. The short conversations we held at my Tuscan Villa were insufficient for an estimate of my character and opinions. A few of these and only a few, of the least important, I may have modified since. Let me run briefly over them as I find them stated in your pages. Twenty-three years have not obliterated from my memory the traces of your visit, in company with that intelligent man and glorious sculptor, who was delegated to erect a statue in your capitol to the tutelary genius of America.
Speaking of Michael Angelo, he says,
I confess I have no relish for his prodigious giblet pie in the Capella Sistina, known throughout the world as his Last Judgment. Grand in architecture, he was no ordinary poet, no lukewarm patriot.
He says of Raffaelle, The cartoons are his noblest works: they place him as high as is Correggio in the dome of Parma: nothing has been, or is likely to be, higher
. Let me say, before we go farther, that I do not think the Greek historians the only good ones.
He then praises Davila, Machiavelli, Voltaire, Michelet, Gibbon, Napier.
Is it certain that I am indiscriminating in my judgment on Charron? Never have I compared him with Montaigne; but there is much of wisdom, and, what is remarkable in the earlier French authors, much of sincerity in him.
I am sorry to have pestered you with Southey, and to have excited the enquiry, Who is Southey? I will answer the question. Southey is the poet who has written the most imaginative poem of any in our own times, English or Continental; such is the Curse of Kehama. Southey is the prose-man who has written the purest prose; Southey is the critic, is the most cordial and the least invidious. Show me another of any note, without captiousness, without arrogance and without malignity.
But Southey raised it.
| ||Slow rises worth by poverty depressed.|
Speaking of his early poem Gebir, he says that in an English journal on the strength of this poem I am compared and preferred to Göthe. I am not too much elated. Neither in my youthful days, nor in any other have I thrown upon the world such trash as Werther and Wilhelm Meister, nor flavored my poetry with the corrugated spicery of metaphysics. Nor could he have written in a lifetime any twenty, in a hundred or thereabout, of my Imaginary Conversations. My poetry I throw to the Scotch terriers growling at my feet. Fifty pages of Shelley contain more of pure poetry than a hundred of Göthe.
* * * * * I do not undervalue Socrates. Being the cleverest of the Sophists, he turned the fraternity into ridicule: he eluded the grasp of his antagonist by anointing with the oil of quibble all that was tangible and prominent. To compare his philosophy (if indeed you can catch it) with the philosophy of Epicurus and Epictetus, whose systems meet, is insanity.
I do not despise entomology. I am ignorant of it; as indeed of almost all science.
I love also flowers and plants; but I know less about them than is known by a beetle or a butterfly.
I must have been misunderstood, or have been culpably inattentive, if I said, I knew not Herschell [sic] by name. The fathers I knew well, from his giving to a star the baptismal one of that pernicious madman who tore America from England.
Mr. Emerson published in the Dial in 1841 a paper on Landor which is now included in the volume Natural History of Intellect. [back]
|Note 9. In his chapter on Boston in Natural History of Intellect Mr. Emerson says that amid the laborious and economical population of New England you may often find that refinement which no education and no habit of society can bestow;
which unites itself by natural affinity to the highest minds of the world;
gave a hospitality in this country to the spirit of Coleridge and Wordsworth, and to the music of Beethoven, before yet their genius had found a hearty welcome in Great Britain. There is evidence that at the age of twenty-three Mr. Emerson had been interested in Coleridge, and by him in German thought. In 1829, in a letter to his Aunt Mary Emerson, he speaks of his pleasure in Coleridges Friend and says, He has a tone a little lower than greatness, but what a living soul, what a universal knowledge! and speaks of him as one whose philosophy compares with others much as astronomy with the other sciences; taking post at the centre, and, as from a specular mount, sending sovereign glances to the circumference of things [For the whole passage on Coleridge, see Mr. Cabots Memoir of Emerson, p. 161.].|
John Sterling in a letter to Emerson in 1841 [A Correspondence between John Sterling and Ralph Waldo Emerson], says: In my boyhood, twenty years ago, I well remember that, with quite insignificant exceptions, all the active and daring minds which would not take for granted the Thirty-nine Articles and the Quarterly Review took refuge with teachers like Mackintosh and Jeffrey, or at highest Madame de Staël. Wordsworth and Coleridge were mystagogues lurking in caverns, and German literature was thought of with a good deal less favour than we are now disposed to show towards that of China.
In the last lecture of the course on English Literature given in the winter of 183536 before the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Mr. Emerson said that Coleridges true merit was not that of a philosopher or of a poet, but of a critic. He praised his subtlety of discrimination, surpassing all men in the fineness of his distinctions, and added, He has taken the widest survey of the moral, intellectual, and social world. His Biographia Literaria is the best book of criticism in the English language; nay, I do not know any to which a modern scholar can be so much indebted. His works are of very unequal interest. [back]
|Note 10. Daniel Waterland, arch-deacon of Middlesex early in the eighteenth century, published polemical treatises against Arians and Deists. [back]|
|Note 11. Mr. Emerson said to Mr. Ireland of Wordsworth and Carlyle: Am I, who have hung over their works in my chamber at home, not to see these men in the flesh, and thank them and interchange some thoughts with them, when I am passing their very doors? [back]|
|Note 12. From Mr. Emersons notebook:|
CARLISLE IN CUMBERLAND, AUG. 26 (1853). I am just arrived in merry Carlisle from Dumfries. A white day in my years. I found the youth I sought in Scotland, and good and wise and pleasant he seems to me. Thomas Carlyle lives in the parish of Dunscore, sixteen miles from Dumfries, amid wild and desolate heathery hills and without a single companion in this region out of his own house. There he has his wife, a most accomplished and agreeable woman. Truth and peace and faith dwell with them and beautify them. I never saw more amiableness than is in his countenance. He speaks broad Scotch with evident relishin London yonder; I liked well aboot it, Ay, Ay, etc. Nothing can be better than his stories,the philosophic phrase, etc. [back]
|Note 13. Mr. John Albee in his Remembrances speaks of Mr. Emersons remarks on the daguerreotype of Carlyle (profile) which he showed him. He spoke of his physiognomy, his heavy eyebrows and projecting base of the forehead, underset by the heavy lower jaw and lip, between which as millstones, he said, every humbug was sure to be pulverized. [back]|
|Note 14. Tunc uno quoque hinc inde instante, ut quam primum se impendentibus contumeliis eriperet, scrobem coram fieri imperavit, dimensus ad corporis sui modulum, componique simul, si qua invenirentur, frusta marmoris, et aquam simul et ligna conferri curando mox cadaveri, flens ad singula atqui identidem dictitans;Qualis artifex pereo!Suetonius, De Vita Cæsarum, Liber VI., 49.|
Which passage may be thus rendered: Then with some one on each side urging him to save himself as soon as possible from the impending indignities, he commanded that a grave be made, in his presence, to his measure, and bits of marble, if any could be there found, be put together, and also water and wood to be brought for the disposing of the corpse soon to be, weeping at everything that was done and repeatedly exclaiming, What an artificer dies in me. [back]
|Note 15. Of this visit, from a man then totally unknown, to him the solitariest, stranded, most helpless creature that I have been for many years, his work rejected by publishers, and apparently by the world, Carlyle wrote two years afterwards: Long shall we remember that Autumn Sunday that landed him (out of Infinite Space) on the Craigenputtock wilderness, not to leave us as he found us. And Mrs. Carlyle wrote: Friend, who, years ago, in the Desert descended upon us out of the clouds, as it were, and made one day there look like enchantment or us, and left me weeping that it was only one day. [back]|
|Note 16. John S[tuart] Mill, the best mind he knows,more purity, more force; has worked himself clear of Benthamism.Journal. [back]|
|Note 17. Mr. Landor in the Open Letter rudely comments on this preference, More fool he! [back]|
|Note 18. Literally, a gain forever. [back]|
|Note 19. In a letter to Mr. Ireland, Mr. Emerson thus spoke of this visit to Ambleside: I spent a valuable hour, and perhaps a half more, with Mr. Wordsworth, who is in sound health at seventy-seven years and was full of talk. He would even have walked with me on my way to Miss Martineaus, but it began to rain, and I would not suffer it.|
But he felt of Wordsworth and the lights of Edinburgh, as he said in another of his letters: They have nothing half so good to give you near, as they had at a distance.
Miss Martineau had written of Mr. Emerson as she saw him in America in 1836: There is a remarkable man in the United States, without knowing whom it is not too much to say that the United States cannot be fully known. I mean by this, not only that he has powers and worth which constitute him an element in the estimate which is to be formed of his country, but that his intellect and his character are the opposite of those which the influences of his country and his time are supposed almost necessarily to form. Great things are expected of him. [back]