Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882). The Complete Works. 1904. Vol. XII. Natural History of Intellect and Other Papers
WE are citizens of two fair cities, said the Genoese gentleman to a Florentine artist, and if I were not a Genoese, I should wish to be Florentine. And I, replied the artist, if I were not Florentine You would wish to be Genoese, said the other. No, replied the artist, I should wish to be Florentine.
THE ROCKY nook with hilltops three
Looked eastward from the farms,
And twice each day the flowing sea
Took Boston in its arms.
* * * * *
The sea returning day by day
Restores the world-wide mart;
So let each dweller on the Bay
Fold Boston in his heart.
Let the blood of her hundred thousands
Throb in each manly vein,
And the wits of all her wisest
Make sunshine in her brain.
And each shall care for other,
And each to each shall bend,
To the poor a noble brother,
To the good an equal friend.
A blessing through the ages thus
Shield all thy roofs and towers!
GOD WITH THE FATHERS, SO WITH US,
Thou darling town of ours!
THE OLD1 physiologists said, There is in the air a hidden food of life; and they watched the effect of different climates. They believed the air of mountains and the seashore a potent predisposer to rebellion. The air was a good republican, and it was remarked that insulary people are versatile and addicted to change, both in religious and secular affairs.
The air that we breathe is an exhalation of all the solid material globe. An aërial fluid streams all day, all night, from every flower and leaf, from every water and soil, from every rock ledge; and from every stratum a different aroma and air according to its quality. According to quality and according to temperature, it must have effect on manners.2
There is the climate of the Sahara: a climate where the sunbeams are vertical; where is day after day, sunstroke after sunstroke, with a frosty shadow between. There are countries, said Howell, where the heaven is a fiery furnace or a blowing bellows, or a dropping sponge, most parts of the year. Such is the assimilating force of the Indian climate that Sir Erskine Perry says the usage and opinion of the Hindoos so invades men of all castes and colors who deal with them that all take a Hindoo tint. Parsee, Mongol, Afghan, Israelite, Christian, have all passed under this influence and exchanged a good part of their patrimony of ideas for the notions, manner of seeing and habitual tone of Indian society. He compares it to the geologic phenomenon which the black soil of the Dhakkan offers,the property, namely, of assimilating to itself every foreign substance introduced into its bosom.
How can we not believe in influences of climate and air, when, as true philosophers, we must believe that chemical atoms also have their spiritual cause why they are thus and not other; that carbon, oxygen, alum and iron, each has its origin in spiritual nature?
Even at this day men are to be found superstitious enough to believe that to certain spots on the surface of the planet special powers attach, and an exalted influence on the genius of man. And it appears as if some localities of the earth, through wholesome springs, or as the habitat of rare plants and minerals, or through ravishing beauties of Nature, were preferred before others. There is great testimony of discriminating persons to the effect that Rome is endowed with the enchanting property of inspiring a longing in men there to live and there to die.3
Who lives one year in Boston ranges through all the climates of the globe. And if the character of the people has a larger range and greater versatility, causing them to exhibit equal dexterity in what are elsewhere reckoned incompatible works, perhaps they may thank their climate of extremes, which at one season gives them the splendor of the equator and a touch of Syria, and then runs down to a cold which approaches the temperature of the celestial spaces.
It is not a country of luxury or of pictures; of snows rather, of east winds and changing skies; visited by icebergs, which, floating by, nip with their cool breath our blossoms. Not a luxurious climate,but wisdom is not found with those who dwell at their ease. Give me a climate where people think well and construct well,I will spend six months there, and you may have all the rest of my years.
What Vasari said, three hundred years ago, of the republican city of Florence might be said of Boston; that the desire for glory and honor is powerfully generated by the air of that place, in the men of every profession; whereby all who possess talent are impelled to struggle that they may not remain in the same grade with those whom they perceive to be only men like themselves, even though they may acknowledge such indeed to be masters; but all labor by every means to be foremost.
We find no less stimulus in our native air; not less ambition in our blood, which Puritanism has not sufficiently chastised; and at least an equal freedom in our laws and customs, with as many and as tempting rewards to toil; with so many philanthropies, humanities, charities, soliciting us to be great and good.
New England is a sort of Scotland. T is hard to say why. Climate is much; then, old accumulation of the means,books, schools, colleges, literary society;as New Bedford is not nearer to the whales than New London or Portland, yet they have all the equipments for a whaler ready, and they hug an oil-cask like a brother.
I do not know that Charles River or Merrimac water is more clarifying to the brain than the Savannah or Alabama rivers, yet the men that drink it get up earlier, and some of the morning light lasts through the day. I notice that they who drink for some little time of the Potomac water lose their relish for the water of the Charles River, of the Merrimac and the Connecticut,even of the Hudson. I think the Potomac water is a little acrid, and should be corrected by copious infusions of these provincial streams.
Of great cities you cannot compute the influences. In New York, in Montreal, New Orleans and the farthest colonies,in Guiana, in Guadaloupe,a middle-aged gentleman is just embarking with all his property to fulfil the dream of his life and spend his old age in Paris; so that a fortune falls into the massive wealth of that city every day in the year. Astronomers come because there they can find apparatus and companions. Chemist, geologist, artist, musician, dancer, because there only are grandees and their patronage, appreciators and patrons. Demand and supply run into every invisible and unnamed province of whim and passion.
Each great city gathers these values and delights for mankind, and comes to be the brag of its age and population. The Greeks thought him unhappy who died without seeing the statue of Jove at Olympia. With still more reason, they praised Athens, the Violet City. It was said of Rome in its proudest days, looking at the vast radiation of the privilege of Roman citizenship through the then-known world,the extent of the city and of the world is the same (spatium et urbis et orbis idem). London now for a thousand years has been in an affirmative or energizing mood; has not stopped growing. Linnæus, like a naturalist, esteeming the globe a big egg, called London the punctum saliens in the yolk of the world.
This town of Boston has a history. It is not an accident, not a windmill, or a railroad station, or cross-roads tavern, or an army-barracks grown up by time and luck to a place of wealth; but a seat of humanity, of men of principle, obeying a sentiment and marching loyally whither that should lead them; so that its annals are great historical lines, inextricably national; part of the history of political liberty. I do not speak with any fondness, but the language of coldest history, when I say that Boston commands attention as the town which was appointed in the destiny of nations to lead the civilization of North America.
A capital fact distinguishing this colony from all other colonies was that the persons composing it consented to come on the one condition that the charter should be transferred from the company in England to themselves; and so they brought the government with them.
On the 3d of November, 1620, King James incorporated forty of his subjects, Sir F. Gorges and others, the council established at Plymouth in the county of Devon for the planting, ruling, ordering and governing of New England in America. The territoryconferred on the patentees in absolute property, with unlimited jurisdiction, the sole power of legislation, the appointment of all officers and all forms of governmentextended from the 40th to the 48th degree of north latitude, and in length from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
John Smith writes (1624): Of all the four parts of the world that I have yet seen not inhabited, could I but have means to transplant a colony, I would rather live here than anywhere; and if it did not maintain itself, were we but once indifferently well fitted, let us starve. Here are many isles planted with corn, groves, mulberries, salvage gardens and good harbours. The seacoast, as you pass, shows you all along large cornfields and great troops of well-proportioned people. Massachusetts in particular, he calls the paradise of these parts, notices its high mountain, and its river, which doth pierce many days journey into the entrails of that country. Morton arrived in 1622, in June, beheld the country, and the more he looked, the more he liked it.
In sixty-eight years after the foundation of Boston, Dr. Mather writes of it, The town hath indeed three elder Sisters in this colony, but it hath wonderfully outgrown them all, and her mother, Old Boston in England, also; yea, within a few years after the first settlement it grew to be the metropolis of the whole English America.
How easy it is, after the city is built, to see where it ought to stand. In our beautiful bay, with its broad and deep waters covered with sails from every port; with its islands hospitably shining in the sun; with its waters bounded and marked by lighthouses, buoys and sea-marks; every foot sounded and charted; with its shores trending steadily from the two arms which the capes of Massachusetts stretch out to sea, down to the bottom of the bay where the city domes and spires sparkle through the haze,a good boatman can easily find his way for the first time to the State House, and wonder that Governor Carver had not better eyes than to stop on the Plymouth Sands.
But it took ten years to find this out. The colony of 1620 had landed at Plymouth. It was December, and the ground was covered with snow. Snow and moonlight make all places alike; and the weariness of the sea, the shrinking from cold weather and the pangs of hunger must justify them.
But the next colony planted itself at Salem, and the next at Weymouth; another at Medford; before these men, instead of jumping on to the first land that offered, wisely judged that the best point for a city was at the bottom of a deep and islanded bay, where a copious river entered it, and where a bold shore was bounded by a country of rich undulating woodland.
The planters of Massachusetts do not appear to have been hardy men, rather, comfortable citizens, not at all accustomed to the rough task of discoverers; and they exaggerated their troubles. Bears and wolves were many; but early, they believed there were lions; Monadnoc was burned over to kill them. John Smith was stung near to death by the most poisonous tail of a fish, called a sting-ray. In the journey of Rev. Peter Bulkeley and his company through the forest from Boston to Concord they fainted from the powerful odor of the sweetfern in the sun;like what befell, still earlier, Biorn and Thorfinn, Northmen, in their expedition to the same coast; who ate so many grapes from the wild vines that they were reeling drunk. The lions have never appeared since,nor before. Their crops suffered from pigeons and mice. Nature has never again indulged in these exasperations. It seems to have been the last outrage ever committed by the sting-rays or by the sweetfern or by the fox-grapes; they have been of peaceable behavior ever since.
Any geologist or engineer is accustomed to face more serious dangers than any enumerated, excepting the hostile Indians. But the awe was real and overpowering in the superstition with which every new object was magnified. The superstition which hung over the new ocean had not yet been scattered; the powers of the savage were not known; the dangers of the wilderness were unexplored; and in that time terrors of witchcraft, terrors of evil spirits, and a certain degree of terror still clouded the idea of God in the mind of the purest.
The divine will descends into the barbarous mind in some strange disguise; its pure truth not to be guessed from the rude vizard under which it goes masquerading. The common eye cannot tell what the bird will be, from the egg, nor the pure truth from the grotesque tenet which sheathes it. But by some secret tie it holds the poor savage to it, and he goes muttering his rude ritual or mythology, which yet conceals some grand commandment; as courage, veracity, honesty, or chastity and generosity.
So these Englishmen, with the Middle Ages still obscuring their reason, were filled with Christian thought. They had a culture of their own. They read Milton, Thomas à Kempis, Bunyan and Flavel with religious awe and delight, not for entertainment. They were precisely the idealists of England; the most religious in a religious era. An old lady who remembered these pious people said of them that they had to hold on hard to the huckleberry bushes to hinder themselves from being translated.
In our own age we are learning to look, as on chivalry, at the sweetness of that ancient piety which makes the genius of St. Bernard, Latimer, Scougal, Jeremy Taylor, Herbert and Leighton. Who can read the fiery ejaculations of Saint Augustine, a man of as clear a sight as almost any other; of Thomas à Kempis, of Milton, of Bunyan even, without feeling how rich and expansive a culturenot so much a culture as a higher lifethey owed to the promptings of this sentiment; without contrasting their immortal heat with the cold complexion of our recent wits? Who can read the pious diaries of the Englishmen in the time of the Commonwealth and later, without a sigh that we write no diaries to-day? Who shall restore to us the odoriferous Sabbaths which made the earth and the humble roof a sanctity?
This spirit, of course, involved that of Stoicism, as, in its turn, Stoicism did this. Yet how much more attractive and true that this piety should be the central trait and the stern virtues follow than that Stoicism should face the gods and put Jove on his defence. That piety is a refutation of every skeptical doubt. These men are a bridge to us between the unparalleled piety of the Hebrew epoch and our own. These ancient men, like great gardens with great banks of flowers, send out their perfumed breath across the great tracts of time. How needful is David, Paul, Leighton, Fénelon, to our devotion. Of these writers, of this spirit which deified them, I will say with Confucius, If in the morning I hear of the right way, and in the evening die, I can be happy.
I trace to this deep religious sentiment and to its culture great and salutary results to the people of New England; first, namely, the culture of the intellect, which has always been found in the Calvinistic Church. The colony was planted in 1620; in 1638 Harvard College was founded. The General Court of Massachusetts, in 1647, To the end that learning may not be buried in the graves of the forefathers, ordered, that every township, after the Lord has increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall appoint one to teach all children to write and read; and where any town shall increase to the number of a hundred families, they shall set up a Grammar School, the Masters thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the University.
Many and rich are the fruits of that simple statute. The universality of an elementary education in New England is her praise and her power in the whole world. To the schools succeeds the village lyceum,now very general throughout all the country towns of New England,where every week through the winter, lectures are read and debates sustained which prove a college for the young rustic. Hence it happens that the young farmers and mechanics, who work all summer in the field or shop, in the winter often go into a neighboring town to teach the district school arithmetic and grammar. As you know, too, New England supplies annually a large detachment of preachers and schoolmasters and private tutors to the interior of the South and West.
New England lies in the cold and hostile latitude, which by shutting men up in houses and tight and heated rooms a large part of the year, and then again shutting up the body in flannel and leather, defrauds the human being in some degree of his relations to external nature; takes from the muscles their suppleness, from the skin its exposure to the air; and the New Englander, like every other Northerner, lacks that beauty and grace which the habit of living much in the air, and the activity of the limbs not in labor but in graceful exercise, tend to produce in climates nearer to the sun. Then the necessity, which always presses the Northerner, of providing fuel and many clothes and tight houses and much food against the long winter, makes him anxiously frugal, and generates in him that spirit of detail which is not grand and enlarging, but goes rather to pinch the features and degrade the character.
As an antidote to the spirit of commerce and of economy, the religious spiritalways enlarging, firing man, prompting the pursuit of the vast, the beautiful, the unattainablewas especially necessary to the culture of New England. In the midst of her laborious and economical and rude and awkward population, where is little elegance and no facility; with great accuracy in details, little spirit of society or knowledge of the world, you shall not unfrequently meet that refinement which no education and no habit of society can bestow; which makes the elegance of wealth look stupid, and unites itself by natural affinity to the highest minds of the world; nourishes itself on Plato and Dante, Michael Angelo and Milton; on whatever is pure and sublime in art,and I may say, 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.4
I do not look to find in England better manners than the best manners here. We can show native examples, and I may almost say (travellers as we are) natives who never crossed the sea, who possess all the elements of noble behavior.
It is the property of the religious sentiment to be the most refining of all influences. No external advantages, no good birth or breeding, no culture of the taste, no habit of command, no association with the elegant,even no depth of affection that does not rise to a religious sentiment, can bestow that delicacy and grandeur of bearing which belong only to a mind accustomed to celestial conversation. All else is coarse and external; all else is tailoring and cosmetics beside this;5 for thoughts are expressed in every look or gesture, and these thoughts are as if angels had talked with the child.
By this instinct we are lifted to higher ground. The religious sentiment gave the iron purpose and arm. That colonizing was a great and generous scheme, manly meant and manly done. When one thinks of the enterprises that are attempted in the heats of youth, the Zoars, New Harmonies and Brook Farms, Oakdales and Phalansteries, which have been so profoundly ventilated, but end in a protracted picnic which after a few weeks or months dismisses the partakers to their old homes, we see with new increased respect the solid, well-calculated scheme of these emigrants, sitting down hard and fast where they came, and building their empire by due degrees.
John Smith says, Thirty, forty, or fifty sail went yearly in America only to trade and fish, but nothing would be done for a plantation, till about some hundred of your Brownists of England, Amsterdam and Leyden went to New Plymouth; whose humorous ignorances caused them for more than a year to endure a wonderful deal of misery, with an infinite patience.
What should hinder that this America, so long kept in reserve from the intellectual races until they should grow to it, glimpses being afforded which spoke to the imagination, yet the firm shore hid until science and art should be ripe to propose it as a fixed aim, and a man should be found who should sail steadily west sixty-eight days from the port of Palos to find it,what should hinder that this New Atlantis should have its happy ports, its mountains of security, its gardens fit for human abode where all elements were right for the health, power and virtue of man?
There are always men ready for adventures,more in an over-governed, over-peopled country, where all the professions are crowded and all character suppressed, than elsewhere. This thirst for adventure is the vent which Destiny offers; a war, a crusade, a gold-mine, a new country, speak to the imagination and offer swing and play to the confined powers.
The American idea, Emancipation, appears in our freedom of intellection, in our reforms and in our bad politics; it has, of course, its sinister side, which is most felt by the drilled and scholastic, but if followed it leads to heavenly places.
European critics regret the detachment of the Puritans to this country without aristocracy; which a little reminds one of the pity of the Swiss mountaineers when shown a handsome Englishman: What a pity he has no goitre! The future historian will regard the detachment of the Puritans without aristocracy the supreme fortune of the colony; as great a gain to mankind as the opening of this continent.
There is a little formula, couched in pure Saxon, which you may hear in the corners of streets and in the yard of the dames school, from very little republicans: I m as good as you be, which contains the essence of the Massachusetts Bill of Rights and of the American Declaration of Independence. And this was at the bottom of Plymouth Rock and of Boston Stone; and this could be heard (by an acute ear) in the Petitions to the King, and the platforms of churches, and was said and rung in every tone of the psalmody of the Puritans; in every note of Old Hundred and Hallelujah and Short Particular Metre.
What is very conspicuous is the saucy independence which shines in all their eyes. They could say to themselves, Well, at least this yoke of man, of bishops, of courtiers, of dukes, is off my neck. We are a little too close to wolf and famine than that anybody should give himself airs here in the swamp.
London is a long way off, with beadles and pursuivants and horse-guards. Here in the clam-banks and the beech and chestnut forest, I shall take leave to breathe and think freely. If you do not like it, if you molest me, I can cross the brook and plant a new state out of reach of anything but squirrels and wild pigeons.
Bonaparte sighed for his republicans of 1789. The soul of a political party is by no means usually the officers and pets of the party, who wear the honors and fill the high seats and spend the salaries. No, but the theorists and extremists, the men who are never contented and never to be contented with the work actually accomplished, but who from conscience are engaged to what that party professes,these men will work and watch and rally and never tire in carrying their point. The theology and the instinct of freedom that grew here in the dark in serious men furnished a certain rancor which consumed all opposition, fed the party and carried it, over every rampart and obstacle, to victory.
Boston never wanted a good principle of rebellion in it, from the planting until now; there is always a minority unconvinced, always a heresiarch, whom the governor and deputies labor with but cannot silence. Some new light, some new doctrinaire who makes an unnecessary ado to establish his dogma; some Wheelwright or defender of Wheelwright; some protester against the cruelty of the magistrates to the Quakers; some tender minister hospitable to Whitfield against the counsel of all the ministers; some John Adams and Josiah Quincy and Governor Andrew to undertake and carry the defence of patriots in the courts against the uproar of all the province; some defender of the slave against the politician and the merchant; some champion of first principles of humanity against the rich and luxurious; some adversary of the death penalty; some pleader for peace; some noble protestant, who will not stoop to infamy when all are gone mad, but will stand for liberty and justice, if alone, until all come back to him.7
I confess I do not find in our people, with all their education, a fair share of originality of thought;not any remarkable book of wisdom; not any broad generalization, any equal power of imagination. No Novum Organon; no Mécanique Céleste; no Principia; no Paradise Lost; no Hamlet; no Wealth of Nations; no National Anthem have we yet contributed.
Nature is a frugal mother and never gives without measure. When she has work to do, she qualifies men for that and sends them equipped for that. In Massachusetts she did not want epic poems and dramas yet, but first, planters of towns, fellers of the forest, builders of mills and forges, builders of roads, and farmers to till and harvest corn for the world. Corn, yes, but honest corn; corn with thanks to the Giver of corn; and the best thanks, namely, obedience to his law; this was the office imposed on our Founders and people; liberty, clean and wise. It was to be built on Religion, the Emancipator; Religion which teaches equality of all men in view of the spirit which created man.
The seed of prosperity was planted. The people did not gather where they had not sown. They did not try to unlock the treasure of the world except by honest keys of labor and skill. They knew, as God knew, that command of Nature comes by obedience to Nature; that reward comes by faithful service; that the most noble motto was that of the Prince of Wales,I serve,and that he is greatest who serves best. There was no secret of labor which they disdained.
They accepted the divine ordination that man is for use; that intelligent being exists to the utmost use; and that his ruin is to live for pleasure and for show. And when within our memory some flippant senator wished to taunt the people of this country by calling them the mudsills of society, he paid them ignorantly a true praise; for good men are as the green plain of the earth is, as the rocks, and the beds of rivers are, the foundation and flooring and sills of the state.
The power of labor which belongs to the English race fell here into a climate which befriended it, and into a maritime country made for trade, where was no rival and no envious lawgiver. The sailor and the merchant made the law to suit themselves, so that there was never, I suppose, a more rapid expansion in population, wealth and all the elements of power, and in the citizens consciousness of power and sustained assertion of it, than was exhibited here.
Moral values become also money values. When men saw that these people, besides their industry and thrift, had a heart and soul, and would stand by each other at all hazards, they desired to come and live here. A house in Boston was worth as much again as a house just as good in a town of timorous people, because here the neighbors would defend each other against bad governors and against troops; quite naturally house-rents rose in Boston.
Besides, youth and health like a stirring town, above a torpid place where nothing is doing. In Boston they were sure to see something going forward before the year was out. For here was the moving principle itself, the primum mobile, a living mind agitating the mass and always afflicting the conservative class with some odious novelty or other; a new religious sect, a political point, a point of honor, a reform in education, a philanthropy.
From Roger Williams and Eliot and Robinson and the Quaker women who for a testimony walked naked into the streets, and as the record tells us were arrested and publicly whipped,the baggages that they were;8 from Wheelwright the Antinomian, and Ann Hutchinson, and Whitfield, and Mother Ann the first Shaker, down to Abner Kneeland, and Father Lamson, and William Garrison, there never was wanting some thorn of dissent and innovation and heresy to prick the sides of conservatism.
With all their love of his person, they took immense pleasure in turning out the governor and deputy and assistants, and contravening the counsel of the clergy; as they had come so far for the sweet satisfaction of resisting the Bishops and the King.
The Massachusetts colony grew and filled its own borders with a denser population than any other American State (Kossuth called it the City State), all the while sending out colonies to every part of New England; then South and West, until it has infused all the Union with its blood.
We are willing to see our sons emigrate, as to see our hives swarm. That is what they were made to do, and what the land wants and invites. The towns or countries in which the man lives and dies where he was born, and his son and sons son live and die where he did, are of no great account.
I am afraid there are anecdotes of poverty and disease in Broad Street that match the dismal statistics of New York and London. No doubt all manner of vices can be found in this, as in every city; infinite meanness, scarlet crime. Granted. But there is yet in every city a certain permanent tone; a tendency to be in the right or in the wrong; audacity or slowness; labor or luxury; giving or parsimony; which side is it on? And I hold that a community, as a man, is entitled to be judged by his best.
We are often praised for what is least ours. Boston too is sometimes pushed into a theatrical attitude of virtue, to which she is not entitled and which she cannot keep. But the genius of Boston is seen in her real independence, productive power and northern acuteness of mind,which is in nature hostile to oppression. It is a good city as cities go; Nature is good. The climate is electric, good for wit and good for character. What public souls have lived here, what social benefactors, what eloquent preachers, skilful workmen, stout captains, wise merchants; what fine artists, what gifted conversers, what mathematicians, what lawyers, what wits; and where is the middle class so able, virtuous and instructed?
And thus our little city thrives and enlarges, striking deep roots, and sending out boughs and buds, and propagating itself like a banyan over the continent. Greater cities there are that sprung from it, full of its blood and name and traditions. It is very willing to be outnumbered and outgrown, so long as they carry forward its life of civil and religious freedom, of education, of social order, and of loyalty to law.9 It is very willing to be outrun in numbers, and in wealth; but it is very jealous of any superiority in these, its natural instinct and privilege. You cannot conquer it by numbers, or by square miles, or by counted millions of wealth. For it owes its existence and its power to principles not of yesterday, and the deeper principle will always prevail over whatever material accumulations.
As long as she cleaves to her liberty, her education and to her spiritual faith as the foundation of these, she will teach the teachers and rule the rulers of America. Her mechanics, her farmers will toil better; she will repair mischief; she will furnish what is wanted in the hour of need; her sailors will man the Constitution; her mechanics repair the broken rail; her troops will be the first in the field to vindicate the majesty of a free nation, and remain last on the field to secure it. Her genius will write the laws and her historians record the fate of nations.
In an age of trade and material prosperity, we have stood a little stupefied by the elevation of our ancestors. We praised the Puritans because we did not find in ourselves the spirit to do the like. We praised with a certain adulation the invariable valor of the old war-gods and war-councillors of the Revolution. Washington has seemed an exceptional virtue. This praise was a concession of unworthiness in those who had so much to say of it. The heroes only shared this power of a sentiment, which, if it now breathes into us, will make it easy to us to understand them, and we shall not longer flatter them. Let us shame the fathers, by superior virtue in the sons.
It is almost a proverb that a great man has not a great son. Bacon, Newton and Washington were childless. But, in Boston, Nature is more indulgent, and has given good sons to good sires, or at least continued merit in the same blood. The elder President Adams has to divide voices of fame with the younger President Adams. The elder Otis could hardly excel the popular eloquence of the younger Otis; and the Quincy of the Revolution seems compensated for the shortness of his bright career in the son who so long lingers among the last of those bright clouds,
Here stands to-day, as of yore, our little city of the rocks; here let it stand forever, on the man-bearing granite of the North! Let her stand fast by herself! She has grown great. She is filled with strangers, but she can only prosper by adhering to her faith. Let every child that is born of her and every child of her adoption see to it to keep the name of Boston as clean as the sun; and in distant ages her motto shall be the prayer of millions on all the hills that gird the town, As with our Fathers, so God be with us! SICUT PATRIBUS, SIT DEUS NOBIS!
Note 1. It must be remembered that Emerson was Boston born and schooled. His birthplace was on the ground now occupied by Hoveys great store; he played in the pleasant gardens on Summer and Chauncy streets whence the blue Bay could then be seen, and he drove his mothers cow to pasture along Beacon Street. Boston was his home until he left college. Mrs. Cheney tells that an earnest young woman of that favored city put this question to another native of the place, Which could you have least spared out of your life,the Common or Emerson? This lecture was the closing one in the course on Life and Literature given in Boston in the spring of 1861. It was first printed in the Atlantic Monthly for January, 1892. [back]
Note 3. The following is from a sheet of Aristocracy, as delivered in Boston: But I consider this city of New England an exceptional community; that here the extraordinary abundant means, provided by private bounty and public law, have enabled every poor man to secure to any talent in his child a good culture, and to the great multitudes (of the middle classes) a finished education,what with libraries, high schools, Latin schools, college scholarships and other foundations; schools of design; and the great sympathy of the community with any superior talent, and the great opportunity and career opened to it,I consider this city to lie in sunlight, and citizenship in it to be a sort of nobility. And the poet Saxe seems to believe that all of us share this good will for our city, And born in Boston needs no second birth. [back]
Note 4. He might well have added the name of Carlyle, but for his own part in introducing his works here. [back]
(As from fire the heat cannot be separated,neither can beauty from the eternal.) [back]
Note 6. Mr. Emerson first used this phrase in vain endeavor to get his friend Carlyle to come to see America in 1854. In the letter it followed the remark, John Bull interests you at home, and is all your subject. [back]
Note 7. New England, on each new political event, resolves itself into a debating society, and is the Germany of the States.Lecture on New England. [back]
Note 8. Some members of the Society of Friends have been troubled that Mr. Emerson should have quoted this amusing if harsh expression of an old author. The late Mr. Richard P. Hallowell, in his work, The Quaker Invasion of Massachusetts, has produced evidence rebutting much of the received history of the disturbances by the Quakers, which seems to have been exaggerated. Mr. Emerson merely incidentally alludes to one of these as reported. His feeling towards the Friends was always one of respect and much sympathy. He once told his cousin, the Rev. D. G. Haskins, I believe I am more of a Quaker than anything else; I believe in the still, small voice. [back]
Note 9. Mr. Emerson puts this playfully in his Boston poem: