Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882). The Complete Works. 1904. Vol. VI. The Conduct of Life
GRACE, Beauty, and Caprice
Build this golden portal,
Graceful women, chosen men
Dazzle every mortal:
Their sweet and lofty countenance
His enchanting food;
He need not go to them, their forms
Beset his solitude.
He looketh seldom in their face,
His eyes explore the ground,
The green grass is a looking-glass
Whereon their traits are found.
Little he says to them,
So dances his heart in his breast,
Their tranquil mien bereaveth him
Of wit, of words, of rest.
Too weak to win, too fond to shun
The tyrants or his doom,
The much deceived Endymion
Slips behind a tomb.
THE SOUL1 which animates nature is not less significantly published in the figure, movement and gesture of animated bodies, than in its last vehicle of articulate speech. This silent and subtile language is Manners; not what, but how. Life expresses. A statue has no tongue, and needs none. Good tableaux do not need declamation. Nature tells every secret once. Yes, but in man she tells it all the time, by form, attitude, gesture, mien, face and parts of the face, and by the whole action of the machine. The visible carriage or action of the individual, as resulting from his organization and his will combined, we call manners. What are they but thought entering the hands and feet, controlling the movements of the body, the speech and behavior?
There is always a best way of doing everything, if it be to boil an egg. Manners are the happy way of doing things; each, once a stroke of genius or of love, now repeated and hardened into usage. They form at last a rich varnish with which the routine of life is washed and its details adorned. If they are superficial, so are the dew-drops which give such a depth to the morning meadows. Manners are very communicable; men catch them from each other. Consuelo, in the romance, boasts of the lessons she had given the nobles in manners, on the stage; and in real life, Talma taught Napoleon the arts of behavior.2 Genius invents fine manners, which the baron and the baroness copy very fast, and, by the advantage of a palace, better the instruction. They stereotype the lesson they have learned, into a mode.
The power of manners is incessant,an element as unconcealable as fire. The nobility cannot in any country be disguised, and no more in a republic or a democracy than in a kingdom. No man can resist their influence. There are certain manners which are learned in good society, of that force that if a person have them, he or she must be considered, and is everywhere welcome, though without beauty, or wealth, or genius. Give a boy address and accomplishments and you give him the mastery of palaces and fortunes where he goes. He has not the trouble of earning or owning them, they solicit him to enter and possess.3 We send girls of a timid, retreating disposition to the boarding-school, to the riding-school, to the ball-room, or wheresoever they can come into acquaintance and nearness of leading persons of their own sex; where they may learn address, and see it near at hand. The power of a woman of fashion to lead and also to daunt and repel, derives from their belief that she knows resources and behaviors not known to them; but when these have mastered her secret they learn to confront her, and recover their self-possession.
Every day bears witness to their gentle rule. People who would obtrude, now do not obtrude. The mediocre circle learns to demand that which belongs to a high state of nature or of culture. Your manners are always under examination, and by committees little suspected, a police in citizens clothes, who are awarding or denying you very high prizes when you least think of it.
We talk much of utilities, but t is our manners that associate us. In hours of business we go to him who knows, or has, or does this or that which we want, and we do not let our taste or feeling stand in the way. But this activity over, we return to the indolent state, and wish for those we can be at ease with; those who will go where we go, whose manners do not offend us, whose social tone chimes with ours. When we reflect on their persuasive and cheering force;4 how they recommend, prepare, and draw people together; how, in all clubs, manners make the members; how manners make the fortune of the ambitious youth; that, for the most part, his manners marry him, and, for the most part, he marries manners; when we think what keys they are, and to what secrets; what high lessons and inspiring tokens of character they convey, and what divination is required in us for the reading of this fine telegraph,we see what range the subject has, and what relations to convenience, power and beauty.
Their first service is very low,when they are the minor morals; but t is the beginning of civility,to make us, I mean, endurable to each other. We prize them for their rough-plastic, abstergent force; to get people out of the quadruped state; to get them washed, clothed and set up on end; to slough their animal husks and habits; compel them to be clean; overawe their spite and meanness; teach them to stifle the base and choose the generous expression, and make them know how much happier the generous behaviors are.
Bad behavior the laws cannot reach. Society is infested with rude, cynical, restless and frivolous persons, who prey upon the rest, and whom a public opinion concentrated into good mannersforms accepted by the sense of allcan reach: the contradictors and railers at public and private tables, who are like terriers, who conceive it the duty of a dog of honor to growl at any passer-by and do the honors of the house by barking him out of sight.5 I have seen men who neigh like a horse when you contradict them or say something which they do not understand:then the overbold, who make their own invitation to your hearth; the persevering talker, who gives you his society in large saturating doses; the pitiers of themselves, a perilous class; the frivolous Asmodeus, who relies on you to find him in ropes of sand to twist; the monotones; in short, every stripe of absurdity;6these are social inflictions which the magistrate cannot cure or defend you from, and which must be entrusted to the restraining force of custom and proverbs and familiar rules of behavior impressed on young people in their school-days.
In the hotels on the banks of the Mississippi they print, or used to print, among the rules of the house, that No gentleman can be permitted to come to the public table without his coat; and in the same country, in the pews of the churches little placards plead with the worshipper against the fury of expectoration. Charles Dickens self-sacrificingly undertook the reformation of our American manners in unspeakable particulars. I think the lesson was not quite lost; that it held bad manners up, so that the churls could see the deformity. Unhappily the book had its own deformities. It ought not to need to print in a reading-room a caution to strangers not to speak loud; nor to persons who look over fine engravings that they should be handled like cobwebs and butterflies wings; nor to persons who look at marble statues that they shall not smite them with canes. But even in the perfect civilization of this city such cautions are not quite needless in the Athenæum and City Library.
Manners are factitious, and grow out of circumstance as well as out of character. If you look at the pictures of patricians and of peasants of different periods and countries, you will see how well they match the same classes in our towns. The modern aristocrat not only is well drawn in Titians Venetian doges and in Roman coins and statues, but also in the pictures which Commodore Perry brought home of dignitaries in Japan. Broad lands and great interests not only arrive to such heads as can manage them, but form manners of power. A keen eye too will see nice gradations of rank, or see in the manners the degree of homage the party is wont to receive. A prince who is accustomed every day to be courted and deferred to by the highest grandees, acquires a corresponding expectation and a becoming mode of receiving and replying to this homage.7
There are always exceptional people and modes. English grandees affect to be farmers. Claverhouse is a fop, and under the finish of dress and levity of behavior hides the terror of his war. But Nature and Destiny are honest, and never fail to leave their mark, to hang out a sign for each and for every quality. It is much to conquer ones face, and perhaps the ambitious youth thinks he has got the whole secret when he has learned that disengaged manners are commanding. Dont be deceived by a facile exterior. Tender men sometimes have strong wills. We had in Massachusetts an old statesman who had sat all his life in courts and in chairs of state without overcoming an extreme irritability of face, voice and bearing; when he spoke, his voice would not serve him; it cracked, it broke, it wheezed, it piped;little cared he; he knew that it had got to pipe, or wheeze, or screech his argument and his indignation. When he sat down, after speaking, he seemed in a sort of fit, and held on to his chair with both hands: but underneath all this irritability was a puissant will, firm and advancing, and a memory in which lay in order and method like geologic strata every fact of his history, and under the control of his will.8
Manners are partly factitious, but mainly there must be capacity for culture in the blood. Else all culture is vain. The obstinate prejudice in favor of blood, which lies at the base of the feudal and monarchical fabrics of the Old World, has some reason in common experience. Every manmathematician, artist, soldier or merchantlooks with confidence for some traits and talents in his own child which he would not dare to presume in the child of a stranger. The Orientalists are very orthodox on this point. Take a thorn-bush, said the emir Abdel-Kader,9 and sprinkle it for a whole year with rose-water;it will yield nothing but thorns. Take a date-tree, leave it without water, without culture, and it will always produce dates. Nobility is the date-tree and the Arab populace is a bush of thorns.
A main fact in the history of manners is the wonderful expressiveness of the human body. If it were made of glass, or of air, and the thoughts were written on steel tablets within, it could not publish more truly its meaning than now. Wise men read very sharply all your private history in your look and gait and behavior. The whole economy of nature is bent on expression. The tell-tale body is all tongues. Men are like Geneva watches with crystal faces which expose the whole movement. They carry the liquor of life flowing up and down in these beautiful bottles and announcing to the curious how it is with them. The face and eyes reveal what the spirit is doing, how old it is, what aims it has. The eyes indicate the antiquity of the soul, or through how many forms it has already ascended. It almost violates the proprieties if we say above the breath here what the confessing eyes do not hesitate to utter to every street passenger.
Man cannot fix his eye on the sun, and so far seems imperfect. In Siberia a late traveller found men who could see the satellites of Jupiter with their unarmed eye. In some respects the animals excel us. The birds have a longer sight, beside the advantage by their wings of a higher observatory. A cow can bid her calf, by secret signal, probably of the eye, to run away or to lie down and hide itself. The jockeys say of certain horses that they look over the whole ground. The out-door life and hunting and labor give equal vigor to the human eye. A farmer looks out at you as strong as the horse; his eye-beam is like the stroke of a staff. An eye can threaten like a loaded and levelled gun, or can insult like hissing or kicking; or in its altered mood by beams of kindness it can make the heart dance with joy.10
The eye obeys exactly the action of the mind. When a thought strikes us, the eyes fix and remain gazing at a distance; in enumerating the names of persons or of countries, as France, Germany, Spain, Turkey, the eyes wink at each new name. There is no nicety of learning sought by the mind which the eyes do not vie in acquiring. An artist, said Michael Angelo, must have his measuring tools not in the hand, but in the eye; and there is no end to the catalogue of its performances, whether in indolent vision (that of health and beauty), or in strained vision (that of art and labor).
Eyes are bold as lions,roving, running, leaping, here and there, far and near. They speak all languages. They wait for no introduction they are no Englishmen; ask no leave of age, or rank; they respect neither poverty nor riches, neither learning nor power nor virtue nor sex; but intrude, and come again, and go through and through you in a moment of time. What inundation of life and thought is discharged from one soul into another, through them! The glance is natural magic. The mysterious communication established across a house between two entire strangers, moves all the springs of wonder.11 The communication by the glance is in the greatest part not subject to the control of the will. It is the bodily symbol of identity of nature. We look into the eyes to know if this other form is another self, and the eyes will not lie, but make a faithful confession what inhabitant is there. The revelations are sometimes terrific. The confession of a low, usurping devil is there made, and the observer shall seem to feel the stirring of owls and bats and horned hoofs, where he looked for innocence and simplicity. T is remarkable too that the spirit that appears at the windows of the house does at once invest himself in a new form of his own to the mind of the beholder.
The eyes of men converse as much as their tongues, with the advantage that the ocular dialect needs no dictionary, but is understood all the world over. When the eyes say one thing and the tongue another, a practised man relies on the language of the first. If the man is off his centre, the eyes show it. You can read in the eyes of your companion whether your argument hits him, though his tongue will not confess it. There is a look by which a man shows he is going to say a good thing, and a look when he has said it. Vain and forgotten are all the fine offers and offices of hospitality, if there is no holiday in the eye. How many furtive inclinations avowed by the eye, though dissembled by the lips! One comes away from a company in which, it may easily happen, he has said nothing and no important remark has been addressed to him, and yet, if in sympathy with the society, he shall not have a sense of this fact, such a stream of life has been flowing into him and out from him through the eyes. There are eyes, to be sure, that give no more admission into the man than blueberries. Others are liquid and deep,wells that a man might fall into;others are aggressive and devouring, seem to call out the police, take all too much notice, and require crowded Broadways and the security of millions to protect individuals against them. The military eye I meet, now darkly sparkling under clerical, now under rustic brows. T is the city of Lacedæmon; t is a stack of bayonets. There are asking eyes, asserting eyes, prowling eyes; and eyes full of fate,some of good and some of sinister omen. The alleged power to charm down insanity, or ferocity in beasts, is a power behind the eye. It must be a victory achieved in the will, before it can be signified in the eye. It is very certain that each man carries in his eye the exact indication of his rank in the immense scale of men, and we are always learning to read it. A complete man should need no auxiliaries to his personal presence. Whoever looked on him would consent to his will, being certified that his aims were generous and universal. The reason why men do not obey us is because they see the mud at the bottom of our eye.12
If the organ of sight is such a vehicle of power, the other features have their own. A man finds room in the few square inches of the face for the traits of all his ancestors; for the expression of all his history and his wants. The sculptor and Winckelmann and Lavater will tell you how significant a feature is the nose; how its forms express strength or weakness of will, and good or bad temper.13 The nose of Julius Cæsar, of Dante, and of Pitt, suggest the terrors of the beak. What refinement and what limitations the teeth betray! Beware you dont laugh, said the wise mother, for then you show all your faults.
Balzac left in manuscript a chapter which he called Théorie de la démarche, in which he says, The look, the voice, the respiration, and the attitude or walk, are identical. But, as it has not been given to man the power to stand guard at once over these four different simultaneous expressions of his thought, watch that one which speaks out the truth, and you will know the whole man.14
Palaces interest us mainly in the exhibition of manners, which, in the idle and expensive society dwelling in them, are raised to a high art. The maxim of courts is that manner is power. A calm and resolute bearing, a polished speech, an embellishment of trifles, and the art of hiding all uncomfortable feeling, are essential to the courtier; and Saint Simon and Cardinal de Retz and Rderer and an encyclopædia of Mémoires will instruct you, if you wish, in those potent secrets.15 Thus it is a point of pride with kings to remember faces and names. It is reported of one prince that his head had the air of leaning downwards, in order not to humble the crowd. There are people who come in ever like a child with a piece of good news. It was said of the late Lord Holland that he always came down to breakfast with the air of a man who had just met with some signal good fortune. In Nôtre Dame, the grandee took his place on the dais with the look of one who is thinking of something else. But we must not peep and eavesdrop at palace doors.
Fine manners need the support of fine manners in others. A scholar may be a well-bred man, or he may not. The enthusiast is introduced to polished scholars in society and is chilled and silenced by finding himself not in their element. They all have somewhat which he has not, and, it seems, ought to have. But if he finds the scholar apart from his companions, it is then the enthusiasts turn, and the scholar has no defence, but must deal on his terms. Now they must fight the battle out on their private strength. What is the talent of that character so commonthe successful man of the worldin all marts, senates and drawing-rooms?16 Manners: manners of power; sense to see his advantage, and manners up to it. See him approach his man. He knows that troops behave as they are handled at first; that is his cheap secret; just what happens to every two persons who meet on any affair,one instantly perceives that he has the key of the situation, that his will comprehends the others will, as the cat does the mouse; and he has only to use courtesy and furnish good-natured reasons to his victim to cover up the chain, lest he be shamed into resistance.
The theatre in which this science of manners has a formal importance is not with us a court, but dress-circles, wherein, after the close of the days business, men and women meet at leisure, for mutual entertainment, in ornamented drawing-rooms. Of course it has every variety of attraction and merit; but to earnest persons, to youths or maidens who have great objects at heart, we cannot extol it highly. A well-dressed talkative company where each is bent to amuse the other,yet the high-born Turk who came hither fancied that every woman seemed to be suffering for a chair; that all the talkers were brained and exhausted by the deoxygenated air; it spoiled the best persons; it put all on stilts. Yet here are the secret biographies written and read. The aspect of that man is repulsive; I do not wish to deal with him. The other is irritable, shy and on his guard. The youth looks humble and manly; I choose him. Look on this woman. There is not beauty, nor brilliant sayings, nor distinguished power to serve you; but all see her gladly; her whole air and impression are healthful. Here come the sentimentalists, and the invalids. Here is Elise, who caught cold in coming into the world and has always increased it since. Here are creep-mouse manners, and thievish manners. Look at Northcote, said Fuseli;17 he looks like a rat that has seen a cat. In the shallow company, easily excited, easily tired, here is the columnar Bernard; the Alleghanies do not express more repose than his behavior. Here are the sweet following eyes of Cecile; it seemed always that she demanded the heart. Nothing can be more excellent in kind than the Corinthian grace of Gertrudes manners, and yet Blanche, who has no manners, has better manners than she; for the movements of Blanche are the sallies of a spirit which is sufficient for the moment, and she can afford to express every thought by instant action.
Manners have been somewhat cynically defined to be a contrivance of wise men to keep fools at a distance. Fashion is shrewd to detect those who do not belong to her train, and seldom wastes her attentions. Society is very swift in its instincts, and, if you do not belong to it, resists and sneers at you, or quietly drops you. The first weapon enrages the party attacked; the second is still more effective, but is not to be resisted, as the date of the transaction is not easily found. People grow up and grow old under this infliction, and never suspects the truth, ascribing the solitude which acts on them very injuriously to any cause but the right one.
The basis of good manners is self-reliance. Necessity is the law of all who are not self-possessed. Those who are not self-possessed obtrude and pain us. Some men appear to feel that they belong to a Pariah caste. They fear to offend, they bend and apologize, and walk through life with a timid step. As we sometimes dream that we are in a well-dressed company without any coat, so Godfrey acts ever as if he suffered from some mortifying circumstance. The hero should find himself at home, wherever he is; should impart comfort by his own security and good nature to all beholders. The hero is suffered to be himself. A person of strong mind comes to perceive that for him an immunity is secured so long as he renders to society that service which is native and proper to him,an immunity from all the observances, yea, and duties, which society so tyrannically imposes on the rank and file of its members. Euripides, says Aspasia, has not the fine manners of Sophocles; but, she adds good-humoredly, the movers and masters of our souls have surely a right to throw out their limbs as carelessly as they please, on the world that belongs to them, and before the creatures they have animated.18
Manners require time, as nothing is more vulgar than haste. Friendship should be surrounded with ceremonies and respects, and not crushed into corners. Friendship requires more time than poor busy men can usually command. Here comes to me Roland, with a delicacy of sentiment leading and enwrapping him like a divine cloud or holy ghost. T is a great destitution to both that this should not be entertained with large leisures, but contrariwise should be balked by importunate affairs.
But through this lustrous varnish the reality is ever shining. T is hard to keep the what from breaking through this pretty painting of the how. The core will come to the surface. Strong will and keen perception overpower old manners and create new; and the thought of the present moment has a greater value than all the past. In persons of character we do not remark manners, because of their instantaneousness. We are surprised by the thing done, out of all power to watch the way of it. Yet nothing is more charming than to recognize the great style with runs through the actions of such. People masquerade before us in their fortunes, titles, offices, and connections, as academic or civil presidents, or senators, or professors, or great lawyers, and impose on the frivolous, and a good deal on each other, by these fames. At least it is a point of prudent good manners to treat these reputations tenderly, as if they were merited. But the sad realist knows these fellows at a glance, and they know him; as when in Paris the chief of the police enters a ball-room, so many diamonded pretenders shrink and make themselves as inconspicuous as they can, or give him a supplicating look as they pass. I had received, said a sibyl, I had received at birth the fatal gift of penetration; and these Cassandras are always born.19
Manners impress as they indicate real power. A man who is sure of his point, carries a broad and contented expression, which everybody reads. And you cannot rightly train one to an air and manner, except by making him the kind of man of whom that manner is the natural expression. Nature forever puts a premium on reality. What is done for effect is seen to be done for effect; what is done for love is felt to be done for love. A man inspires affection and honor because he was not lying in wait for these.20 The things of a man for which we visit him were done in the dark and cold. A little integrity is better than any career. So deep are the sources of this surface-action that even the size of your companion seems to vary with his freedom of thought. Not only is he larger, when at ease and his thoughts generous, but everything around him becomes variable with expression. No carpenters rule, no rod and chain will measure the dimensions of any house or house-lot; go into the house; if the proprietor is constrained and deferring, t is of no importance how large his house, how beautiful his grounds,you quickly come to the end of all: but if the man is self-possessed, happy and at home, his house is deep-founded, indefinitely large and interesting, the roof and dome buoyant as the sky. Under the humblest roof, the commonest person in plain clothes sits there massive, cheerful, yet formidable, like the Egyptian colossi.
Neither Aristotle, nor Leibnitz, nor Junius, nor Champollion21 has set down the grammar-rules of this dialect, older than Sanscrit; but they who cannot yet read English, can read this. Men take each others measure, when they meet for the first time,and every time they meet. How do they get this rapid knowledge, even before they speak, of each others power and disposition? One would say that the persuasion of their speech is not in what they say,or that men do not convince by their argument, but by their personality, by who they are, and what they said and did heretofore. A man already strong is listened to, and everything he says is applauded. Another opposes him with sound argument, but the argument is scouted until by and by it gets into the mind of some weighty person; then it begins to tell on the community.
Self-reliance is the basis of behavior, as it is the guaranty that the powers are not squandered in too much demonstration. In this country, where school education is universal, we have a superficial culture, and a profusion of reading and writing and expression. We parade our nobilities in poems and orations, instead of working them up into happiness. There is a whisper out of the ages to him who can understand it,Whatever is known to thyself alone, has always very great value. There is some reason to believe that when a man does not write his poetry it escapes by other vents through him, instead of the one vent of writing; clings to his form and manners, whilst poets have often nothing poetical about them except their verses. Jacobi said that when a man has fully expressed his thought, he has somewhat less possession of it.22 One would say, the rule is,What man is irresistibly urged to say, helps him and us. In explaining his thought to others, he explains it to himself, but when he opens it for show, it corrupts him.
Society is the stage on which manners are shown; novels are the literature. Novels are the journal or record of manners, and the new importance of these books derives from the fact that the novelist begins to penetrate the surface and treat this part of life more worthily. The novels used to be all alike, and had a quite vulgar tone. The novels used to lead us on to a foolish interest in the fortunes of the boy and girl they described. The boy was to be raised from a humble to a high position. He was in want of a wife and a castle, and the object of the story was to supply him with one or both. We watched sympathetically, step by step, his climbing, until at last the point is gained, the wedding day is fixed, and we follow the gala procession home to the bannered portal, when the doors are slammed in our face and the poor reader is left outside in the cold, not enriched by so much as an idea or a virtuous impulse.
But the victories of character are instant, and victories for all. Its greatness enlarges all. We are fortified by every heroic anecdote. The novels are as useful as Bibles if they teach you the secret that the best life is conversation, and the greatest success is confidence, or perfect understanding between sincere people. T is a French definition of friendship, rien que sentendre, good understanding. The highest compact we can make with our fellow, is, Let there be truth between us two forevermore. That is the charm in all good novels, as it is the charm in all good histories, that the heroes mutually understand, from the first, and deal loyally and with a profound trust in each other. It is sublime to feel and say of another, I need never meet or speak or write to him; we need not reinforce ourselves, or send tokens of remembrance; I rely on him as on myself; if he did thus or thus, I know it was right.
In all the superior people I have met I notice directness, truth spoken more truly, as if everything of obstruction, of malformation, had been trained away. What have they to conceal? What have they to exhibit? Between simple and noble persons there is always a quick intelligence; they recognize at sight, and meet on a better ground than the talents and skills they may chance to possess, namely on sincerity and uprightness. For it is not what talents or genius a man has, but how he is to his talents, that constitutes friendship and character. The man that stands by himself, the universe stands by him also. It is related by the monk Basle, that being excommunicated by the Pope, he was, at his death, sent in charge of an angel to find a fit place of suffering in hell; but such was the eloquence and good humor of the monk, that wherever he went he was received gladly and civilly treated even by the most uncivil angels; and when he came to discourse with them, instead of contradicting or forcing him, they took his part, and adopted his manners; and even good angels came from far to see him and take up their abode with him. The angel that was sent to find a place of torment for him attempted to remove him to a worse pit, but with no better success; for such was the contented spirit of the monk that he found something to praise in every place and company, though in hell, and made a kind of heaven of it. At last the escorting angel returned with his prisoner to them that sent him, saying that no phlegethon could be found that would burn him; for that in whatever condition, Basle remained incorrigibly Basle. The legend says his sentence was remitted, and he was allowed to go into heaven and was canonized as a saint.
There is a stroke of magnanimity in the correspondence of Bonaparte with his brother Joseph, when the latter was King of Spain, and complained that he missed in Napoleons letters the affectionate tone which had marked their childish correspondence. I am sorry, replies Napoleon, you think you shall find your brother again only in the Elysian Fields. It is natural that at forty he should not feel toward you as he did at twelve. But his feelings toward you have greater truth and strength. His friendship has the features of his mind.
How much we forgive to those who yield us the rare spectacle of heroic manners!23 We will pardon them the want of books, of arts, and even of the gentler virtues. How tenaciously we remember them! Here is a lesson which I brought along with me in boyhood from the Latin School, and which ranks with the best of Roman anecdotes. Marcus Scaurus was accused by Quintus Varius Hispanus, that he had excited the allies to take arms against the Republic. But he, full of firmness and gravity, defended himself in this manner:Quintus Varius Hispanus alleges that Marcus Scaurus, President of the Senate, excited the allies to arms: Marcus Scaurus, President of the Senate, denies it. There is no witness. Which do you believe, Romans? Utri creditis, Quirites? When he had said these words he was absolved by the assembly of the people.
I have seen manners that make a similar impression with personal beauty; that give the like exhilaration, and refine us like that; and in memorable experiences they are suddenly better than beauty, and make that superfluous and ugly. But they must be marked by fine perception, the acquaintance with real beauty. They must always show self-control; you shall not be facile, apologetic, or leaky, but king over your word; and every gesture and action shall indicate power at rest.24 Then they must be inspired by the good heart. There is no beautifier of complexion, or form, or behavior, like the wish to scatter joy and not pain around us. It is good to give a stranger a meal, or a nights lodging. It is better to be hospitable to his good meaning and thought, and give courage to a companion.25 We must be as courteous to a man as we are to a picture, which we are willing to give the advantage of a good light. Special precepts are not to be thought of; the talent of well-doing contains them all. Every hour will show a duty as paramount as that of my whim just now, and yet I will write it,that there is one topic peremptorily forbidden to all well-bred, to all rational mortals, namely, their distempers. If you have not slept, or if you have slept, or if you have headache, or sciatica, or leprosy, or thunderstroke, I beseech you by all angels to hold your peace, and not pollute the morning, to which all the housemates bring serene and pleasant thoughts, by corruption and groans. Come out of the azure. Love the day. Do not leave the sky out of your landscape. The oldest and the most deserving person should come very modestly into any newly awaked company, respecting the divine communications out of which all must be presumed to have newly come. An old man who added an elevating culture to a large experience of life, said to me, When you come into the room, I think I will study how to make humanity beautiful to you.26
As respects the delicate question of culture I do not think that any other than negative rules can be laid down. For positive rules, for suggestion, nature alone inspires it.27 Who dare assume to guide a youth, a maid, to perfect manners? the golden mean is so delicate, difficult,say frankly, unattainable. What finest hands would not be clumsy to sketch the genial precepts of the young girls demeanor? The chances seem infinite against success; and yet success is continually attained. There must not be secondariness, and t is a thousand to one that her air and manner will at once betray that she is not primary, but that there is some other one or many of her class to whom she habitually postpones herself. But nature lifts her easily and without knowing it over these impossibilities, and we are continually surprised with graces and felicities not only unteachable but undescribable.28
These lines of Jonson express the charm which the graces had for the solitary New England scholar who believed himself sadly deficient in them. He used these verses as the motto to what a writer in a recent journal has called his fine essay on Manners, which was the first study for his finer essay on Behavior. The allusion, in the last lines of the motto of this essay, to Endymion, whom sleeping the moon stooped to kiss, leaving the influence of that benediction while life lasted, is a statement of the authors own case. It recalls the opening verses of the Ode to Beauty, written perhaps ten years earlier. [back]
Note 2. George Sands novel Consuelo was one of the few novels read and valued by Mr. Emerson, who alludes to it in the essay on Books, in Society and Solitude, and in Representative Men. Talma was an actor of great dignity and grace. [back]
Note 3. In the Dial, in 1842, Mr. Emerson printed some verses called Tact, which, though appearing in the first edition of the Poems, were so little poetical that he did not choose to keep them in the latest editions. Two verses are here given:
Note 5. Journal, 1855. T is a measure of culture, the number of things taken for granted. When a man begins to speak, the churl will take him up, by disputing his first words, so he cannot come at his scope. The wise man takes all for granted until he sees the parallelism of that which puzzled him with his own view. Mr. Emerson was constantly annoyed by the discourtesy with which disputatious persons, or those who knew of no plane above that of the Understanding, attacked and baited Mr. Alcott from the outset in the Conversations, so that he seldom was allowed to present his lofty and Platonic view to advantage. Mr. Alcott had not skill in dispute, even less than his friend, who found so much refreshment in the amplitude and height of his views, as presented in private, that he wished others should give the philosopher a fair hearing. Mr. Alcotts opponents were misled by the name Conversations, which should have been Philosophic Utterances. [back]
Note 6. Asmodeus, a demon mentioned in the Book of Tobit in the Apocrypha, and in the Talmud. The keeping him out of mischief by setting him to spin sand into ropes is alluded to in several places in Mr. Emersons work, as in Politics and Resources. In a fragment of verse he likens his own task of weaving his thoughts into a coherent tissue for an essay to that of this spirit.
The Asmodean feat is mine,
To spin my sand-heap into twine.
As for the monotones, his fatigue found expression thus in the journal for 1855: We are forced to treat a great part of mankind like crazy persons. We readily discover their mania and humor it, so that conversation soon becomes a tiresome effort. We humor a democrat, a whig, a rich man, an antiquary, a woman, a slaveholder and so on. All Dr. s opinions are incipient insanities, and not very incipient either. And again of his troublesome guests, who sulked when not exclusively allowed the floor at a social gathering: How I hate these past and future birds who frown and attitudinize in cheerful parlors. [back]
Note 7. The lecture on Aristocracy in Lectures and Biographical Sketches, though dealing with Natural Aristocracy, has interest in this connection. [back]
Note 8. John Quincy Adams is, without doubt, described in this passage. A very similar account of his appearance on public occasions is given by Mr. John T. Morse, Jr., in his biography of the younger Adams. [back]
Note 9. The Emir Abd-el-Kader, whose energy and courage made him for sixteen years a terror to the French army in Algiers, was finally captured in 1847. He became the friend of General Daumas, who edited an exceedingly interesting book entitled Les Chevaux du Sahara, in which he recorded what the Emir told him of the Arab horse, the tradition of his origin, the texts from the Koran concerning him, his breeding, treatment and performance, and also of the customs and modes of thought and action of the Arabs of the Desert. Mr. Emerson took great pleasure in this book. [back]
Note 11. In each of the poems on The Initial, The Dæmonic and The Celestial Loves are remarkable passages on the eyes and their powers. In the motto to the next essay in this volume it is said that the sentiment of worship, miscalled Fate,
Note 12. Mr. Emersons eyes were of a clear, rather dark blue. He looked his guest kindly and searchingly in the eyes on his arrival, but, in talking with him, he looked fixedly rather beside than at him, while answering his questions not directly, but suggestively. His look was not too personal to others. In lecturing, he kept his eyes for the most part on his manuscript, but, especially in a speech on some important public issue, he emphasized the strong sentences and made them far more telling by his steadfast forward look or sudden fearless glance. [back]
Note 13. The book of Winckelmann on Greek Art was often referred to by Mr. Emerson. Johann Caspar Lavater, the Swiss mystic, wrote a remarkable work on Physiognomy in men and animals, in which he pushed his theories to a ludicrous extreme. His Physiognomische Fragmente zur Beförderung der Menschenkentniss und Menschenliebe was published in 177578. [back]
Note 14. A mans attire, and excessive laughter, and gait, shew what he is.Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus xix. 30. [back]
Note 15. Louis de Rouvroi, Duke of Saint-Simon (16751755), a writer of interesting Mémoires, which because of their bold and satirical character did not obtain full publication until 1829. Jean François Paul de Gondi, Cardinal de Retz (161479), a man of loose morals, but much ability, became Cardinal, and Archbishop of Paris. He had many vicissitudes of fortune, being an opponent of Richelieu and Mazarin, and had to take refuge in Spain for some years. His Mémoires cover an interesting period. Pierre Louis, Count Roederer (17541835), a man of letters who was a statesman of remarkable intelligence and address, which saved him, although of the moderate party, in the French Revolution, throughout which he was very active. Under Napoleon he occupied places of importance, but after the return of the Bourbons he devoted himself to literature. Among his writings are the Chronique de Cinquante Jours and Mémoires pour servir a lhistoire de la Société polie en France. [back]
Note 16. What talent had this second Charles, that he could hold his place among the Wrens, Hooks, Newtons, Flamsteeds, Halleys, Bentleys, Pettys, Coventrys that clustered in his Royal Society, and atone for the harpies and dragons and all unclean beasts which masqueraded in titles around him? During his lecturing expeditions Mr. Emerson enjoyed the opportunity of seeing and hearing the speech of men of affairs. He wrote, perhaps in 1852: I am greatly pleased with the merchants. In railway cars and hotels it is common to meet only the successful class and so we have favorable specimens, but these discover more manly power of all kinds than scholars; behave a great deal better, converse better, and have independent and sufficient manners. Yet he sees his compensations as a scholar, for a different aspect of the same subject is given in an earlier journal (1845): Geniality, yes, very important, but so is substance. The entrance of a scholar put a whole insurance office to flight. Every elegant loafer steals out when he comes in. He deplores this Medusa-masque which scares every one from his side. The merchant he admires. See how long their conversation lasts in the rail-car! What can they have to say, that is still so fresh and so much? Yes. But they are unhappy as soon as they are aloneand he is unhappy as soon as he is not alone. [back]
Note 17. Fuseli was banished from Switzerland for some political indiscretion. His drawing was praised by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and in time he became professor of painting in the Academy. He wrote a Life of Reynolds. James Northcote, a pupil of Reynolds, became a portrait painter. His disposition and manners made him unpopular. [back]
Note 18. From Pericles and Aspasia, by Walter Savage Landor. [back]
Note 19. This, without doubt, was the speech of Mr. Emersons eccentric aunt, Mary Moody Emerson. His account of her is included in Lectures and Biographical Sketches. [back]
Note 20. Journal, 1841. Be calm, sit still in your chair, though the company be dull and unworthy. Are you not there? There then is the choir of your friends; for subtle influences are always arriving at you from them, and you represent them, do you not? to all who stand here. It is not a word that I am a gentleman, and the king is no more, but is a fact expressed in every word between the king and a gentleman. [back]
Note 21. Jean Jacques Champollion-Figeac, the archæologist and successful expounder of Egyptian hieroglyphics. [back]
Note 22. Franz Heinrich Jacobi, the German philosopher and correspondent of Goethe. [back]
Note 23. Journal, 1852. We tell our children and ourselves not to regard other peoples opinion, but to respect themselves, and we send them to school or to company and they meet (as we have so often met) some animosus infans, some companion rammed with life, whose manners tyrannize over them. They have no weapon of defence against this weapon; a pound will weigh down an ounce in spite of all precepts. A quality of a different kind is yet a counterpoise: as a gas is a vacuum to every other gas. [back]
Note 24. Journal, 1850. My prayer to women would be, when the bell rings, when visitors arrive, sit like statues. [back]
Note 25. Compare the passage in The Celestial Love beginning
Note 26. Hear what the morning says and believe that, was one of Mr. Emersons finest utterances. There is a passage on morning influences in Inspiration, in connection with Goethes poem Musagetes, in Letters and Social Aims. [back]
Note 27. A positive rule which Mr. Emerson taught by constant example was, Never talk about yourself: that is, your personal self; as far as you are universal and ideal it is permitted. [back]
Note 28. Journal, 1845. There are persons who are always in fashion; and style and fashion and aristocracy bends itself to them, denies itself to be possessed of them. [back]