Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Richard Garnett (1835–1906)
“NOTEWORTHY also,” says Carlyle, “and serviceable for the progress of this same Individual, wilt thou find his subdivision into Generations.”  1
  It is indeed the fact that the course of human history admits of being marked off into periods, which, from their average duration and the impulse communicated to them by those who enter upon adolescence along with them, may be fitly denominated generations, especially when their opening and closing are signalized by great events which serve as historical landmarks. No such event, indeed, short of the Day of Judgment or a universal deluge, can serve as an absolute line of demarcation; nothing can be more certain than that history and human life are a perpetual Becoming; and that, although the progress of development is frequently so startling and unforeseen as to evoke the poet’s exclamation,—
  “New endless growth surrounds on every side,
Such as we deemed not earth could ever bear,”—
this growth is but development after all. The association of historical periods with stages in the mental development of man is nevertheless too convenient to be surrendered; the vision is cleared and the grasp strengthened by the perception of a well-defined era in American history, commencing with the election of Andrew Jackson to the Presidency in 1828 and closing with the death of Abraham Lincoln in 1865,—a period exactly corresponding with one in English history measured from the death of Lord Liverpool, the typical representative of a bygone political era in the prime of other years, and that of Lord Palmerston, another such representative, in the latter. The epoch thus bounded almost precisely corresponds to the productive period of the two great men who, more than any contemporaries, have stood in the conscious attitude of teachers of their age. With such men as Tennyson and Browning, vast as their influence has been, the primary impulse has not been didactic, but artistic; Herbert Spencer, George Eliot, Matthew Arnold, and others, have been chiefly operative upon the succeeding generation; Mill and the elder Newman rather address special classes than the people at large; and Ruskin and Kingsley would have willingly admitted that however eloquent the expression of their teaching, its originality mainly consisted in the application of Carlyle’s ideas to subjects beyond Carlyle’s range. Carlyle and Emerson, therefore, stand forth like Goethe and Schiller as the Dioscuri of their period; the two men to whom beyond others its better minds looked for guidance, and who had the largest share in forming the minds from which the succeeding generation was to take its complexion. Faults and errors they had; but on the whole it may be said that nations have rarely been more fortunate in their instructors than the two great English-speaking peoples during the age of Carlyle and Emerson. Of Carlyle this is not the place to speak further; but writing on Emerson, it will be necessary to exhibit what we conceive to have been the special value of his teaching; and to attempt some description of the man himself, in indication of the high place claimed for him.
  It has been said of some great man of marked originality that he was the sole voice among many echoes. This cannot be said of Emerson; his age was by no means deficient in original voices. But his may be said with truth to have been the chief verbal utterance in an age of authorship. It is a trite remark, that many of the men of thought whose ideas have most influenced the world have shown little inclination for literary composition. The president of a London freethinking club in Goldsmith’s time supposed himself to be in possession of the works of Socrates, no less than of those of “Tully and Cicero,” but no other trace of their existence has come to light. Had Emerson lived in any age but his own, it is doubtful whether, any more than Socrates, he would have figured as an author. “I write,” he tells Carlyle, “with very little system, and as far as regards composition, with most fragmentary result—paragraphs incomprehensible, each sentence an infinitely repellent particle.” We also hear of his going forth into the woods to hunt a thought as a boy might hunt a butterfly, except that the thought had flown with him from home, and that his business was not so much to capture it as to materialize it and make it tangible. This peculiarity serves to classify Emerson among the ancient sages, men like Socrates and Buddha, whose instructions were not merely oral but unmethodical and unsystematic; who spoke as the casual emergency of the day dictated, and left their observations to be collected by their disciples. An excellent plan in so far as it accomplishes the endowment of the sage’s word with his own individuality; exceptionable when a doubt arises whether the utterance belongs to the master or the disciple, and in the case of diametrically opposite versions, whether Socrates has been represented more truly by the prose of Xenophon or the poetry of Plato. We may be thankful that the spirit of Emerson’s age, and the exigencies of his own affairs, irresistibly impelled him to write: nevertheless the fact remains that with him Man Thinking is not so much Man Writing as Man Speaking, and that although the omnipotent machinery of the modern social system caught him too, and forced him into line with the rest, we have in him a nearer approach to the voice, apart from the disturbing and modifying habits of literary composition, than in any other eminent modern thinker. This annuls one of the most weighty criticisms upon Emerson, so long as he is regarded merely as an author,—his want of continuity, and consequent want of logic. Had he attempted to establish a philosophical system, this would have been fatal. But such an undertaking is of all things furthest from his thoughts. He does not seek to demonstrate, he announces. Ideas have come to him which, as viewed by the inward light, appear important and profitable. He brings these forward to be tested by the light of other men. He does not seek to connect these ideas together, except in so far as their common physiognomy bespeaks their common parentage. Nor does he seek to fortify them by reasoning, or subject them to any test save the faculty by which the unprejudiced soul discerns good from evil. If his jewel will scratch glass, it is sufficiently evinced a diamond.  3
  It follows that although Emerson did not write most frequently or best in verse, he is, as regards the general constitution of his intellect, rather to be classed with poets than with philosophers. Poetry cannot indeed dispense with the accurate observation of nature and mankind, but poetic genius essentially depends on intuition and inspiration. There is no gulf between the philosopher and the poet; some of the greatest of poets have also been among the most powerful of reasoners; but their claim to poetical rank would not have been impaired if their ratiocination had been ever so illogical. Similarly, a great thinker may have no more taste for poetry than was vouchsafed to Darwin or the elder Mill, without any impeachment of his power of intellect. The two spheres of action are fundamentally distinct, though the very highest geniuses, such as Shakespeare and Goethe, have sometimes almost succeeded in making them appear as one. To determine to which of them a man actually belongs, we must look beyond the externalities of literary form, and inquire whether he obtains his ideas by intuition, or by observation and reflection. No mind will be either entirely intuitive or entirely reflective, but there will usually be a decided inclination to one or other of the processes; and in the comparatively few cases in which thoughts and feelings seem to come to it unconsciously, as leaves to a tree, we may consider that we have a poet, though perhaps not a writer of poetry. If indeed the man writes at all, he will very probably write prose, but this prose will be impregnated with poetic quality. From this point of view we are able to set Emerson much higher than if we regarded him simply as a teacher. He is greater as the American Wordsworth than as the American Carlyle. We shall understand his position best by comparing him with other men of genius who are poets too, but not pre-eminently so. In beauty of language and power of imagination, John Henry Newman and James Martineau, though they have written little in verse, yield to few poets. But throughout all their writings the didactic impulse is plainly the preponderating one, their poetry merely auxiliary and ornamental; hence they are not reckoned among poets. With Emerson the case is reversed: the revealer is first in him, the reasoner second; oral speech is his most congenial form of expression, and he submits to appear in print because the circumstances of his age render print the most effectual medium for the dissemination of his thought. It will be observed that whenever possible he resorts to the medium of oration or lecture; it may be further remarked that his essays, often originally delivered as lectures, are very like his discourses, and his discourses very like his essays. In neither, so far as regards the literary form of the entire composition, distinguished from the force and felicity of individual sentences, can he be considered as a classic model. The essay need not be too severely logical, yet a just conception of its nature requires a more harmonious proportion and more symmetrical construction, as well as a more consistent and intelligent direction towards a single definite end, than we usually find in Emerson. The orator is less easy to criticize than the essayist, for oratory involves an element of personal magnetism which resists all critical analysis. Hence posterity frequently reverses (or rather seems to reverse, for the decision upon a speech mutilated of voice and action cannot be really conclusive) the verdicts of contemporaries upon oratory. “What will our descendants think of the Parliamentary oratory of our age?” asked a contemporary of Burke’s, “when they are told that in his own time this man was accounted neither the first, nor the second, nor even the third speaker?” Transferred to the tribunal of the library, Burke’s oratory bears away the palm from Pitt and Fox and Sheridan; yet, unless we had heard the living voices of them all, it would be unsafe for us to challenge the contemporary verdict. We cannot say, with the lover in Goethe, that the word printed appears dull and soulless, but it certainly wants much which conduced to the efficacy of the word spoken:—
  “Ach wie traurig sieht in Lettern,
  Schwarz auf weiss, das Lied mich an,
Das aus deinem Mund vergöttern,
  Das ein Herz zerreissen kann!”
  Emerson’s orations are no less delightful and profitable reading than his essays, so long as they can be treated as his essays were intended to be treated when they came into print; that is, read deliberately, with travelings backward when needed, and frequent pauses of thought. But if we consider them as discourses to be listened to, we shall find some difficulty in reconciling their popularity and influence with their apparent disconnectedness, and some reason to apprehend that, occasional flashes of epigram excepted, they must speedily have passed from the minds of the hearers. The apparent defect was probably remedied in delivery by the magnetic power of the speaker; not that sort of power which “wields at will the fierce democracy,” but that which convinces the hearer that he is listening to a message from a region not as yet accessible to himself. The impassioned orator usually provokes the suspicion that he is speaking from a brief. Not so Emerson: above all other speakers he inspires the confidence that he declares a thing to be, not because he wishes, but because he perceives it to be so. His quiet, unpretending, but perfectly unembarrassed manner, as of a man with a message which he simply delivers and goes away, must have greatly aided to supply the absence of vigorous reasoning and skillful oratorical construction. We could not expect a spirit commissioned to teach us to condescend to such methods; and Emerson’s discourse, whether in oration or essay, though by no means deficient in human feeling nor of the “blessed Glendoveer” order, frequently does sound like that of a being from another sphere, simply because he derived his ideas from a higher world; as must always be the case with the man of spiritual, not of course with the man of practical genius. It matters nothing whether this is really so, or whether what wears the aspect of imparted revelation is but a fortifying of the natural eye, qualifying it to look a little deeper than neighboring eyes into things around. In either case the person so endowed stands a degree nearer to the essential truth of things than his fellows; and the consciousness of the fact, transpiring through his personality, gives him a weight which might otherwise seem inexplicable. Nothing can be more surprising than the deference with which the learned and intelligent contemporaries of the humble and obscure Spinoza resort to his judgment before he has so much as written a book.  5
  This estimate of Emerson as an American Wordsworth, one who like Wordsworth not merely enforced but practically demonstrated the proposition that
  “One impulse from a vernal wood
  May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
  Than all the sages can,”
is controverted by many who can see in him nothing but a polisher and stringer of epigrammatic sayings. It is impossible to argue with any who cannot recognize the deep vitality of ‘Nature,’ of the two series of Essays first published, and of most of the early orations and discourses; but it may be conceded that Emerson’s fountain of inspiration was no more perennial than Wordsworth’s, and that in his latter years his gift of epigrammatic statement enabled him to avoid both the Scylla and the Charybdis of men of genius whose fount of inspiration has run low. In some such cases, such as Wordsworth’s, the author simply goes on producing, with less and less geniality at every successive effort. In others, such as Browning’s, he escapes inanity by violent exaggeration of his characteristic mannerisms. Neither of these remarks applies to Emerson: he does not, in ceasing to be original, become insipid, nor can it be said that he is any more mannered at the last than at the first. This is a clear proof that his peculiarity of speech is not mannerism but manner; that consequently he is not an artificial writer, and that, since the treatment of his themes as he has chosen to treat them admits of no compromise between nature and rhetoric, he has the especial distinction of simplicity where simplicity is difficult and rare. That such is the case will appear from an examination of his earlier and more truly prophetic writings.
  Of these, the first in importance as in time is the tract ‘Nature,’ commenced in 1833, rewritten, completed, and published in 1836. Of all Emerson’s writings this is the most individual, and the most adapted for a general introduction to his ideas. These ideas are not in fact peculiar to him; and yet the little book is one of the most original ever written, and one of those most likely to effect an intellectual revolution in the mind capable of apprehending it. The reason is mainly the intense vitality of the manner, and the translation of abstract arguments into concrete shapes of witchery and beauty. It contains scarcely a sentence that is not beautiful,—not with the cold beauty of art, but with the radiance and warmth of feeling. Its dominant note is rapture, like the joy of one who has found an enchanted realm, or who has convinced himself that old stories deemed too beautiful to be true are true indeed. Yet it is exempt from extravagance, the splendor of the language is chastened by taste, and the gladness and significance of the author’s announcements would justify an even more ardent enthusiasm. They may be briefly summed up as the statements that Nature is not mechanical, but vital; that the Universe is not dead, but alive; that God is not remote, but omnipresent. There was of course no novelty in these assertions, nor can Emerson bring them by a hair’s-breadth nearer demonstration than they had always been. He simply re-states them in a manner entirely his own, and with a charm not perhaps surpassing that with which others had previously invested them, but peculiar and dissimilar. Everything really Emersonian in Emerson’s teaching may be said to spring out of this little book: so copious, however, were the corollaries deducible from principles apparently so simple, that the flowers veiled the tree; and precious as the tract is, as the first and purest draught of the new wine, it is not the most practically efficient of his works, and might probably have passed unperceived if it had not been reinforced by a number of auxiliary compositions, some produced under circumstances which could not fail to provoke wide discussion and consequent notoriety. The principles unfolded in ‘Nature’ might probably have passed with civil acquiescence if Emerson had been content with the mere statement; but he insisted on carrying them logically out, and this could not be done without unsettling every school of thought at the time prevalent in America. The Divine omnipresence, for example, was admitted in words by all except materialists and anti-theists; but if, as Emerson maintained, this involved the conception of the Universe as a Divine incarnation, this in its turn involved an optimistic view of the universal scheme totally inconsistent with the Calvinism still dominant in American theology. If all existence was a Divine emanation, no part of it could be more sacred than another part,—which at once abolished the mystic significance of religious ceremonies so dear to the Episcopalians; while the immediate contact of the Universe with the Deity was no less incompatible with the miraculous interferences on which Unitarianism reposed its faith. Such were some of the most important negative results of Emerson’s doctrines; in their positive aspect, by asserting the identity of natural and spiritual laws, they invested the former with the reverence hitherto accorded only to the latter, and restored to a mechanical and prosaic society the piety with which men in the infancy of history had defied the forces of Nature. Substantially, except for the absence of any definite relation to literary art, Emerson’s mission was very similar to Wordsworth’s; but by natural temperament and actual situation he wanted the thousand links which bound Wordsworth to the past, and eventually made the sometime innovator the patron of a return towards the Middle Ages.  7
  Emerson had no wish to regress, and, almost alone among thinkers who have reached an advanced age, betrays no symptom of reaction throughout the whole of his career. The reason may be, that his scrupulous fairness and frank conceptions to the Conservative cast of thought had left him nothing to retract or atone for. He seems to have started on his journey through life with his Conservatism and Liberalism ready made up, taking with him just as much of either as he wanted. This is especially manifest in the discourse ‘The Conservative’ (1841), in which he deliberately weighs conservative against progressive tendencies, impersonates each in an imaginary interlocutor, and endeavors to display their respective justification and shortcomings. Nothing can be more rigidly equitable or more thoroughly sane than his estimate; and as the issues between conservatism and reform have broadened and deepened, time has only added to its value. It is a perfect manual for thoughtful citizens, desirous of understanding the questions that underlie party issues, and is especially to be commended to young and generous minds, liable to misguidance in proportion to their generosity.  8
  This celebrated discourse is one of a group including one still more celebrated, the address to the graduating class of Divinity College, Cambridge, published as ‘The Christian Teacher’ (1838). This, says Mr. Cabot, seems to have been struck off at a heat, which perhaps accounts for its nearer approach than any of his other addresses to the standard of what is usually recognized as eloquence. Eloquent in a sense Emerson usually was, but here is something which could transport a fit audience with enthusiasm. It also possessed the power of awakening the keenest antagonism; but censure has long since died away, and nothing that Emerson wrote has been more thoroughly adopted into the creed of those with whom external observances and material symbols find no place. Equally epoch-making in a different way was the oration on ‘Man Thinking, or the American Scholar’ (1837), entitled by Dr. Holmes “our intellectual Declaration of Independence,” and of which Mr. Lowell says: “We were socially and intellectually moored to English thought, till Emerson cut the cable and gave us a chance at the dangers and glories of blue water.” In these three great discourses, and in a less measure in ‘The Transcendentalist’ and ‘Man the Reformer’ (both in 1841), America may boast of possessing works of the first class, which could have been produced in no other country, and which—even though, in Emerson’s own phrase, wider circles should come to be drawn around them—will remain permanent landmarks in intellectual history.  9
  These discourses may be regarded as Emerson’s public proclamations of his opinions; but he is probably more generally known and more intimately beloved by the two unobtrusive volumes of Essays, originally prefaced for England by Carlyle. Most of these, indeed, were originally delivered as lectures, but to small audiences, and with little challenge to public attention. It may be doubted whether they would have succeeded as lectures but for the personal magnetism of the speaker; but their very defects aid them with the reader, who, once fascinated by their beauty of phrase and depth of spiritual insight, imbibes their spirit all the more fully for his ceaseless effort to mend their deficient logic with his own. Like Love in Dante’s sonnet, Emerson enters into and blends with the reader, and his influence will often be found most potent where it is least acknowledged. Each of the twenty may be regarded as a fuller working out of some subject merely hinted at in ‘Nature,’—statues, as it were, for niches left vacant in the original edifice. The most important and pregnant with thought are ‘History,’ where the same claim is preferred for history as for the material world, that it is not dead but alive; ‘Self-Reliance,’ a most vigorous assertion of a truth which Emerson was apt to carry to extremes,—the majesty of the individual soul; ‘Compensation,’ an exposition of the universe as the incarnation of unerring truth and absolute justice; ‘Love,’ full of beauty and rapture, yet almost chilling to the young by its assertion of what is nevertheless true, that even Love in its human semblance only subserves ulterior ends; ‘Circles,’ the demonstration that this circumstance is no way peculiar to Love, that there can be nothing ultimate, final, or unrelated to ulterior purpose,—nothing around which, in Emersonian phrase, you cannot draw a circle; ‘The Over-Soul,’ a prose hymn dedicated to an absolutely spiritual religion; ‘The Poet,’ a celebration of Poetry as coextensive with Imagination, and in the highest sense with Reason also; ‘Experience’ and ‘Character,’ valuable essays, but evincing that the poetical impulse was becoming spent, and that Emerson’s mind was more and more tending to questions of conduct. The least satisfactory of the essays is that on ‘Art,’ where he is only great on the negative side, Art’s inevitable limitations. The æsthetical faculty, which contemplates Beauty under the restraints of Form, was evidently weak in him.  10
  ‘Representative Men,’ Emerson’s next work of importance (1845), shows that his parachute was descending; but he makes a highly successful compromise by taking up original ideas as reflected in the actions and thoughts of great typical men, one remove only from originality of exposition on his own part. The treatment is necessarily so partial as to exercise a distorting influence on his representation of the men themselves. Napoleon, for example, may have been from a certain point of view the hero of the middle class, as Emerson chooses to consider him; but he was much besides, which cannot even be hinted at in a short lecture. The representation of such a hero, nevertheless, whether the character precisely fitted Napoleon or not, is highly spirited and suggestive; and the same may be said of the other lectures. That on Shakespeare is the least satisfying, the consummate art which is half Shakespeare’s greatness making little appeal to Emerson. He appears also at variance with himself when he speaks of Shakespeare’s existence as “obscure and profane,” such a healthy, homely, unambitious life being precisely what he elsewhere extols as a model. The first lecture of the series, ‘Uses of Great Men,’ would seem to have whispered the message more vociferously repeated by Walt Whitman.  11
  Emerson was yet to write two books of worth, not illumed with “the light that never was on sea or land,” but valuable complements to his more characteristic work, and important to mankind as an indisputable proof that a teacher need not be distrusted in ordinary things because he is a mystic and a poet. ‘The Conduct of Life’ (1851), far inferior to his earlier writings in inspiration, is yet one of the most popular and widely influential of his works because condescending more nearly to the needs and intelligence of the average reader. It is not less truly Emersonian, less fully impregnated with his unique genius; but the themes discussed are less interesting, and the glory and the beauty of the diction are much subdued. Without it, we should have been in danger of regarding Emerson too exclusively as a transcendental seer, and ignoring the solid ground of good sense and practical sagacity from which the waving forests of his imagery drew their nutriment. It greatly promoted his fame and influence by coming into the hands of successive generations of readers who naturally inquired for his last book, found the author, with surprise, so much nearer their own intellectual position than they had been led to expect, and gradually extended the indorsement which they could not avoid according to the book, to the author himself. When the Reason and the Understanding have agreed to legitimate the pretensions of a speculative thinker, these may be considered stable. Emerson insensibly took rank with the other American institutions; it seemed natural to all, that without the retractation or modification of a syllable on his part, Harvard should in 1866 confer her highest honors upon him whose address to her Divinity School had aroused such fierce opposition in 1838. Emerson’s views, being pure intuitions, rarely admitted of alteration in essence, though supplement or limitation might sometimes be found advisable. The Civil War, for instance, could not but convince him that in his zeal for the independence of the individual he had dangerously impaired the necessary authority of government. His attitude throughout this great contest was the ideal of self-sacrificing patriotism: in truth, it might be said of him, as of so few men of genius, that you could not find a situation for him, public or private, whose obligations he was not certain to fulfill. He had previously given proof of his insight into another nation by his ‘English Traits,’ mainly founded upon the visit he had paid to England in 1847–48: a book to be read with equal pleasure and profit by the nation of which and by the nation for which it was written; while its insight, sanity, and kindliness justify what has been said on occasion of another of Emerson’s writings: “The ideologist judges the man of action more shrewdly and justly than the man of action judges the ideologist.” This was the secret of Napoleon’s bitter animosity to “ideologists”: he felt instinctively that the man of ideas could see into him and through him, and recognize and declare his place in the scheme of the universe as an astronomer might a planet’s. He would have wished to be an incalculable, original, elemental force; and it vexed him to feel that he was something whose course could be mapped and whose constitution defined by a mere mortal like a Coleridge or a De Staël, who could treat him like the incarnate Thought he was, and show him, as Emerson showed the banker, “that he also was a phantom walking and working amid phantoms, and that he need only ask a question or two beyond his daily questions to find his solid universe proving dim and impalpable before his sense.”  12
  The later writings of Emerson, though exhibiting few or no traces of mental decay, are in general repetitions or at least confirmations of what had once been announcements and discoveries. This can scarcely be otherwise when the mind’s productions are derived from its own stuff and substance. Emerson’s contemporary Longfellow could renovate and indeed augment his poetical power by resort in his old age to Italy; but change of environment brings no reinforcement of energy to the speculative thinker. Events however may come to his aid; and when Emerson was called before the people by a momentous incident like the death of President Lincoln, he rose fully to the height of the occasion. His last verses, also, are among his best. We have spoken of him as primarily and above all things a poet; but his claim to that great distinction is to be sought rather in the poetical spirit which informs all his really inspired writings, than in the comparatively restricted region of rhyme and metre. It might have been otherwise. Many of his detached passages are the very best things in verse yet written in America: but though a maker, he is not a fashioner. The artistic instinct is deficient in him; he is seldom capable of combining his thoughts into a harmonious whole. No one’s expression is better when he aims at conveying a single thought with gnomic terseness, as in the mottoes to his essays; few are more obscure when he attempts continuous composition. Sometimes, as in the admirable stanzas on the Bunker Hill dedication, the subject has enforced the due clearness and compression of thought; sometimes, as in the glorious lines beginning “Not from a vain or shallow thought,” he is guided unerringly by a divine rapture; in one instance at least, ‘The Rhodora,’ where he is writing of beauty, the instinct of beauty has given his lines the symmetry as well as the sparkle of the diamond. Could he have always written like this, he would have been supreme among American poets in metre; as it is, comparison seems unfair both to him and to them.  13
  What we have to learn from Emerson is chiefly the Divine immanence in the world, with all its corollaries; no discovery of his, but re-stated by him in the fashion most suitable to his age, and with a cogency and attractiveness rivaled by no contemporary. If we tried to sum up his message in a phrase, we might perhaps find this in Keats’s famous ‘Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty’; only, while Keats was evidently more concerned for Beauty than for Truth, Emerson held an impartial balance. These are with him the tests of each other: whatever is really true is also beautiful, whatever is really beautiful is also true. Hence his especial value to a world whose more refined spirits are continually setting up types of æsthetic beauty which must needs be delusive, as discordant with beauty contemplated under the aspect of morality; while the mass never think of bringing social and political arrangements to the no less infallible test of conformity to an ideally beautiful standard. Hence the seeming idealist is of all men the most practical; and Emerson’s gospel of beauty should be especially precious to a country like his own, where circumstances must for so long tell in favor of the more material phases of civilization. Even more important is that aspect of his teaching which deals with the unalterableness of spiritual laws, the impossibility of evading Truth and Fact in the long run, or of wronging any one without at the same time wronging oneself. Happy would it be for the United States if Emerson’s essay on ‘Compensation’ in particular could be impressed upon the conscience, where there is any, of every political leader; and interwoven with the very texture of the mind of every one who has a vote to cast at the polls!  14
  The special adaptation of Emerson’s teaching to the needs of America is, nevertheless, far from the greatest obligation under which he has laid his countrymen. His greatest service is to have embodied a specially American type of thought and feeling. It is the test of real greatness in a nation to be individual, to produce something in the world of intellect peculiar to itself and indefeasibly its own. Such intellectual growths were indeed to be found in America before Emerson’s time, but they were not of the highest class. Franklin was a great sage, but his wisdom was worldly wisdom. Emerson gives us, in his own phrase, morality on fire with emotion,—the only morality which in the long run will really influence the heart of man. Man is after all too noble a being to be permanently actuated by enlightened selfishness; and when we compare Emerson with even so truly eminent a character as Franklin, we see, as he saw when he compared Carlyle with Johnson, how great a stride forward his country had taken in the meantime. But he could do for America what Carlyle could not do for Great Britain, for it was done already: he could and did create a type of wisdom especially national, as distinctive of the West as Buddha’s of the East.  15

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