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Ralph Waldo Emerson by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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American Men of Letters



"_Thou wert the morning star among the living,
Ere thy fair light had fled:
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New splendor to the dead._"

American Men of Letters

* * * * *






My thanks are due to the members of Mr. Emerson's family, and the other
friends who kindly assisted me by lending interesting letters and
furnishing valuable information.

The Index, carefully made by Mr. J.H. Wiggin, was revised and somewhat
abridged by myself.


BOSTON, November 25, 1884.


* * * * *



1803-1823. To AET. 20.

Birthplace.--Boyhood.--College Life.


1823-1828. AET. 20-25.

Extract from a Letter to a Classmate.--School-Teaching.--Study of
Divinity.--"Approbated" to Preach.--Visit to the South.--Preaching in
Various Places.


1828-1833. AET. 25-30.

Settled as Colleague of Rev. Henry Ware.--Married to Ellen Louisa
Tucker.--Sermon at the Ordination of Rev. H.B. Goodwin.--His Pastoral
and Other Labors.--Emerson and Father Taylor.--Death of Mrs.
Emerson.--Difference of Opinion with some of his Parishioners.--Sermon
Explaining his Views.--Resignation of his Pastorate.


1833-1838. AET. 30-35.

Section I. Visit to Europe.--On his Return preaches in Different
Places.--Emerson in the Pulpit.--At Newton.--Fixes his Residence at
Concord.--The Old Manse.--Lectures in Boston.--Lectures on
Michael Angelo and on Milton published in the "North American
Review."--Beginning of the Correspondence with Carlyle.--Letters to the
Rev. James Freeman Clarke.--Republication of "Sartor Resartus."

Section 2. Emerson's Second Marriage.--His New Residence in
Concord.--Historical Address.--Course of Ten Lectures on English
Literature delivered in Boston.--The Concord Battle Hymn.--Preaching
in Concord and East Lexington.--Accounts of his Preaching by
Several Hearers.--A Course of Lectures on the Nature and Ends of
History.--Address on War.--Death of Edward Bliss Emerson.--Death of
Charles Chauncy Emerson.

Section 3. Publication of "Nature."--Outline of this Essay.--Its
Reception.--Address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society


1838-1843. AET. 35-40.

Section 1. Divinity School Address.--Correspondence.--Lectures on Human
Life.--Letters to James Freeman Clarke.--Dartmouth College Address:
Literary Ethics.--Waterville College Address: The Method of
Nature.--Other Addresses: Man the Reformer.--Lecture on the Times.--The
Conservative.--The Transcendentalist.--Boston "Transcendentalism."--"The
Dial."--Brook Farm.

Section 2. First Series of Essays published.--Contents: History,
Self-Reliance, Compensation, Spiritual Laws, Love, Friendship, Prudence,
Heroism, The Over-Soul, Circles, Intellect, Art.--Emerson's Account
of his Mode of Life in a Letter to Carlyle.--Death of Emerson's


1843-1848. AET. 40-45.

"The Young American."--Address on the Anniversary of the Emancipation
of the Negroes in the British West Indies.--Publication of the
Second Series of Essays.--Contents: The Poet.--Experience.
and Realist.--New England Reformers.--Publication of Poems.--Second
Visit to England


1848-1853. AET. 45-50.

The "Massachusetts Quarterly Review."--Visit to
Europe.--England.--Scotland.--France.--"Representative Men" published.
I. Lives of Great Men. II. Plato; or, the Philosopher; Plato; New
Readings. III. Swedenborg; or, the Mystic. IV. Montaigne; or, the
Skeptic. V. Shakespeare; or, the Poet. VI. Napoleon; or, the Man of the
World. VII. Goethe; or, the Writer.--Contribution to the "Memoirs of
Margaret Fuller Ossoli"


1853-1858. AET. 50-55.

Lectures in various Places.--Anti-Slavery Addresses.--Woman. A Lecture
read before the Woman's Rights Convention.--Samuel Hoar. Speech at
Concord.--Publication of "English Traits."--The "Atlantic Monthly."--The
"Saturday Club"


1858-1863. AET. 55-60.

Essay on Persian Poetry.--Speech at the Burns Centennial
Festival.--Letter from Emerson to a Lady.--Tributes to Theodore Parker
and to Thoreau.--Address on the Emancipation Proclamation.--Publication
of "The Conduct of Life." Contents: Fate; Power; Wealth; Culture;
Behavior; Considerations by the Way; Beauty; Illusions


1863-1868. AET. 60-65.

"Boston Hymn."--"Voluntaries."--Other Poems.--"May-Day and other
Pieces."--"Remarks at the Funeral Services of President Lincoln."--Essay
on Persian Poetry.--Address at a Meeting of the Free Religious
Association.--"Progress of Culture." Address before the Phi Beta
Kappa Society of Harvard University.--Course of Lectures in
Philadelphia.--The Degree of LL.D. conferred upon Emerson by Harvard


1868-1873. AET. 65-70.

Lectures on the Natural History of the Intellect.--Publication of
"Society and Solitude." Contents: Society and Solitude.
--Civilization.--Art.--Eloquence.--Domestic Life.--Farming.
--Works and Days.--Books.--Clubs.--Courage.--Success.--Old Age.--Other
Literary Labors.--Visit to California.--Burning of his House, and the
Story of its Rebuilding.--Third Visit to Europe.--His Reception at
Concord on his Return


1873-1878. AET. 70-75.

Publication of "Parnassus."--Emerson Nominated as Candidate for the
Office of Lord Rector of Glasgow University.--Publication of
"Letters and Social Aims." Contents: Poetry and Imagination.--Social
Aims.--Eloquence.--Resources.--The Comic.--Quotation and Originality.
--Progress of Culture.--Persian Poetry.--Inspiration.--Greatness.
--Immortality.--Address at the Unveiling of the Statue of "The
Minute-Man" at Concord.--Publication of Collected Poems


1878-1882. AET. 75-79.

Last Literary Labors.--Addresses and Essays.--"Lectures and Biographical


Emerson's Poems


Recollections of Emerson's Last Years.--Mr. Conway's Visits.--Extracts
from Mr. Whitman's Journal.--Dr. Le Baron Russell's Visit.--Dr. Edward
Emerson's Account.--Illness and Death.--Funeral Services



Personality and Habits of Life.--His Commission and Errand.--As a
Lecturer.--His Use of Authorities.--Resemblance to Other Writers.--As
influenced by Others.--His Place as a Thinker.--Idealism and
Intuition.--Mysticism.--His Attitude respecting Science.--As an
American.--His Fondness for Solitary Study.--His Patience and
Amiability.--Feeling with which he was regarded.--Emerson and
Burns.--His Religious Belief.--His Relations with Clergymen.--Future of
his Reputation.--His Life judged by the Ideal Standard


"I have the feeling that every man's biography is at his own expense. He
furnishes not only the facts, but the report. I mean that all biography
is autobiography. It is only what he tells of himself that comes to be
known and believed."

So writes the man whose life we are to pass in review, and it is
certainly as true of him as of any author we could name. He delineates
himself so perfectly in his various writings that the careful reader
sees his nature just as it was in all its essentials, and has little
more to learn than those human accidents which individualize him
in space and time. About all these accidents we have a natural and
pardonable curiosity. We wish to know of what race he came, what were
the conditions into which he was born, what educational and social
influences helped to mould his character, and what new elements Nature
added to make him Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He himself believes in the hereditary transmission of certain
characteristics. Though Nature appears capricious, he says, "Some
qualities she carefully fixes and transmits, but some, and those the
finer, she exhales with the breath of the individual, as too costly to
perpetuate. But I notice also that they may become fixed and permanent
in any stock, by painting and repainting them on every individual, until
at last Nature adopts them and bakes them in her porcelain."

* * * * *

We have in New England a certain number of families who constitute what
may be called the Academic Races. Their names have been on college
catalogues for generation after generation. They have filled the learned
professions, more especially the ministry, from the old colonial days to
our own time. If aptitudes for the acquisition of knowledge can be
bred into a family as the qualities the sportsman wants in his dog are
developed in pointers and setters, we know what we may expect of a
descendant of one of the Academic Races. Other things being equal, he
will take more naturally, more easily, to his books. His features will
be more pliable, his voice will be more flexible, his whole nature more
plastic than those of the youth with less favoring antecedents. The
gift of genius is never to be reckoned upon beforehand, any more than
a choice new variety of pear or peach in a seedling; it is always a
surprise, but it is born with great advantages when the stock from which
it springs has been long under cultivation.

These thoughts suggest themselves in looking back at the striking record
of the family made historic by the birth of Ralph Waldo Emerson. It was
remarkable for the long succession of clergymen in its genealogy, and
for the large number of college graduates it counted on its rolls.

A genealogical table is very apt to illustrate the "survival of the
fittest,"--in the estimate of the descendants. It is inclined to
remember and record those ancestors who do most honor to the living
heirs of the family name and traditions. As every man may count two
grandfathers, four great-grandfathers, eight great-great-grandfathers,
and so on, a few generations give him a good chance for selection. If
he adds his distinguished grandmothers, he may double the number of
personages to choose from. The great-grandfathers of Mr. Emerson at the
sixth remove were thirty-two in number, unless the list was shortened by
intermarriage of relatives. One of these, from whom the name descended,
was Thomas Emerson of Ipswich, who furnished the staff of life to the
people of that wonderfully interesting old town and its neighborhood.

His son, the Reverend Joseph Emerson, minister of the town of Mendon,
Massachusetts, married Elizabeth, daughter of the Reverend Edward
Bulkeley, who succeeded his father, the Reverend Peter Bulkeley, as
Minister of Concord, Massachusetts.

Peter Bulkeley was therefore one of Emerson's sixty-four grandfathers
at the seventh remove. We know the tenacity of certain family
characteristics through long lines of descent, and it is not impossible
that any one of a hundred and twenty-eight grandparents, if indeed the
full number existed in spite of family admixtures, may have transmitted
his or her distinguishing traits through a series of lives that cover
more than two centuries, to our own contemporary. Inherited qualities
move along their several paths not unlike the pieces in the game of
chess. Sometimes the character of the son can be traced directly to that
of the father or of the mother, as the pawn's move carries him from one
square to the next. Sometimes a series of distinguished fathers follows
in a line, or a succession of superior mothers, as the black or white
bishop sweeps the board on his own color. Sometimes the distinguishing
characters pass from one sex to the other indifferently, as the castle
strides over the black and white squares. Sometimes an uncle or aunt
lives over again in a nephew or niece, as if the knight's move were
repeated on the squares of human individuality. It is not impossible,
then, that some of the qualities we mark in Emerson may have come from
the remote ancestor whose name figures with distinction in the early
history of New England.

The Reverend Peter Bulkeley is honorably commemorated among the worthies
consigned to immortality in that precious and entertaining medley of
fact and fancy, enlivened by a wilderness of quotations at first or
second hand, the _Magnolia Christi Americana_, of the Reverend Cotton
Mather. The old chronicler tells his story so much better than any one
can tell it for him that he must be allowed to speak for himself in a
few extracts, transferred with all their typographical idiosyncrasies
from the London-printed, folio of 1702.

"He was descended of an Honourable Family in _Bedfordshire_.--He was
born at _Woodhil_ (or _Odel_) in _Bedfordshire_, _January_ 31st,

"His _Education_ was answerable unto his _Original_; it was
_Learned_, it was _Genteel_, and, which was the top of all, it was
very _Pious_: At length it made him a _Batchellor_ of _Divinity_,
and a Fellow of Saint _John's_ Colledge in Cambridge.--

"When he came abroad into the World, a good benefice befel him,
added unto the estate of a Gentleman, left him by his Father; whom
he succeeded in his Ministry, at the place of his Nativity: Which
one would imagine _Temptations_ enough to keep him out of a

But he could not conscientiously conform to the ceremonies of the
English Church, and so,--

"When Sir _Nathaniel Brent_ was Arch-Bishop _Laud's_ General, as
Arch-Bishop _Laud_ was _another's_, Complaints were made against Mr.
_Bulkly_, for his Non-Conformity, and he was therefore Silenced.

"To _New-England_ he therefore came, in the Year 1635; and there
having been for a while, at _Cambridge_, he carried a good Number of
Planters with him, up further into the _Woods_, where they gathered
the _Twelfth Church_, then formed in the Colony, and call'd the Town
by the Name of _Concord_.

"Here he _buried_ a great Estate, while he _raised_ one still,
for almost every Person whom he employed in the Affairs of his

"He was a most excellent _Scholar_, a very-_well read_ Person, and
one, who in his advice to young Students, gave Demonstrations, that
he knew what would go to make a _Scholar_. But it being essential
unto a _Scholar_ to love a _Scholar_, so did he; and in Token
thereof, endowed the Library of _Harvard_-Colledge with no small
part of his own.

"And he was therewithal a most exalted _Christian_--In his Ministry
he was another _Farel, Quo nemo tonuit fortius_--And the observance
which his own People had for him, was also paid him from all sorts
of People throughout the Land; but especially from the Ministers of
the Country, who would still address him as a _Father_, a _Prophet_,
a _Counsellor_, on all occasions."

These extracts may not quite satisfy the exacting reader, who must be
referred to the old folio from which they were taken, where he will
receive the following counsel:--

"If then any Person would know what Mr. _Peter Bulkly_ was, let him read
his Judicious and Savory Treatise of the _Gospel Covenant_, which has
passed through several Editions, with much Acceptance among the People
of God." It must be added that "he had a competently good Stroke at
Latin Poetry; and even in his Old Age, affected sometimes to improve it.
Many of his Composure are yet in our Hands."

It is pleasant to believe that some of the qualities of this
distinguished scholar and Christian were reproduced in the descendant
whose life we are studying. At his death in 1659 he was succeeded, as
was mentioned, by his son Edward, whose daughter became the wife of the
Reverend Joseph Emerson, the minister of Mendon who, when that village
was destroyed by the Indians, removed to Concord, where he died in the
year 1680. This is the first connection of the name of Emerson with
Concord, with which it has since been so long associated.

Edward Emerson, son of the first and father of the second Reverend
Joseph Emerson, though not a minister, was the next thing to being one,
for on his gravestone he is thus recorded: "Mr. Edward Emerson, sometime
Deacon of the first church in Newbury." He was noted for the virtue of
patience, and it is a family tradition that he never complained but
once, when he said mildly to his daughter that her dumplings were
somewhat harder than needful,--"_but not often_." This same Edward was
the only break in the line of ministers who descended from Thomas of
Ipswich. He is remembered in the family as having been "a merchant in

Their son, the second Reverend Joseph Emerson, Minister of Malden for
nearly half a century, married Mary, the daughter of the Reverend Samuel
Moody,--Father Moody,--of York, Maine. Three of his sons were ministers,
and one of these, William, was pastor of the church at Concord at the
period of the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

As the successive generations narrow down towards the individual whose
life we are recalling, the character of his progenitors becomes more and
more important and interesting to the biographer. The Reverend William
Emerson, grandfather of Ralph Waldo, was an excellent and popular
preacher and an ardent and devoted patriot. He preached resistance to
tyrants from the pulpit, he encouraged his townsmen and their allies to
make a stand against the soldiers who had marched upon their peaceful
village, and would have taken a part in the Fight at the Bridge, which
he saw from his own house, had not the friends around him prevented
his quitting his doorstep. He left Concord in 1776 to join the army at
Ticonderoga, was taken with fever, was advised to return to Concord and
set out on the journey, but died on his way. His wife was the daughter
of the Reverend Daniel Bliss, his predecessor in the pulpit at Concord.
This was another very noticeable personage in the line of Emerson's
ancestors. His merits and abilities are described at great length on his
tombstone in the Concord burial-ground. There is no reason to doubt that
his epitaph was composed by one who knew him well. But the slabs
which record the excellences of our New England clergymen of the past
generations are so crowded with virtues that the reader can hardly help
inquiring whether a sharp bargain was not driven with the stonecutter,
like that which the good Vicar of Wakefield arranged with the
portrait-painter. He was to represent Sophia as a shepherdess, it will
be remembered, with as many sheep as he could afford to put in for

William Emerson left four children, a son bearing the same name, and
three daughters, one of whom, Mary Moody Emerson, is well remembered as
pictured for us by her nephew, Ralph Waldo. His widow became the wife
of the Reverend Ezra Ripley, Doctor of Divinity, and his successor as
Minister at Concord.

The Reverend William Emerson, the second of that name and profession,
and the father of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was born in the year 1769, and
graduated at Harvard College in 1789. He was settled as Minister in the
town of Harvard in the year 1792, and in 1799 became Minister of the
First Church in Boston. In 1796 he married Ruth Haskins of Boston. He
died in 1811, leaving five sons, of whom Ralph Waldo was the second.

The interest which attaches itself to the immediate parentage of a man
like Emerson leads us to inquire particularly about the characteristics
of the Reverend William Emerson so far as we can learn them from his own
writings and from the record of his contemporaries.

The Reverend Dr. Sprague's valuable and well-known work, "Annals of the
American Pulpit," contains three letters from which we learn some of
his leading characteristics. Dr. Pierce of Brookline, the faithful
chronicler of his time, speaks of his pulpit talents as extraordinary,
but thinks there was not a perfect sympathy between him and the people
of the quiet little town of Harvard, while he was highly acceptable in
the pulpits of the metropolis. In personal appearance he was attractive;
his voice was melodious, his utterance distinct, his manner agreeable.
"He was a faithful and generous friend and knew how to forgive an
enemy.--In his theological views perhaps he went farther on the liberal
side than most of his brethren with whom he was associated.--He was,
however, perfectly tolerant towards those who differed from him most

Dr. Charles Lowell, another brother minister, says of him, "Mr. Emerson
was a handsome man, rather tall, with a fair complexion, his cheeks
slightly tinted, his motions easy, graceful, and gentlemanlike, his
manners bland and pleasant. He was an honest man, and expressed himself
decidedly and emphatically, but never bluntly or vulgarly.--Mr. Emerson
was a man of good sense. His conversation was edifying and useful; never
foolish or undignified.--In his theological opinions he was, to say the
least, far from having any sympathy with Calvinism. I have not supposed
that he was, like Dr. Freeman, a Humanitarian, though he may have been

There was no honester chronicler than our clerical Pepys, good, hearty,
sweet-souled, fact-loving Dr. John Pierce of Brookline, who knew the
dates of birth and death of the graduates of Harvard, starred and
unstarred, better, one is tempted to say (_Hibernice_), than they did
themselves. There was not a nobler gentleman in charge of any Boston
parish than Dr. Charles Lowell. But after the pulpit has said what it
thinks of the pulpit, it is well to listen to what the pews have to say
about it.

This is what the late Mr. George Ticknor said in an article in the
"Christian Examiner" for September, 1849.

"Mr. Emerson, transplanted to the First Church in Boston six years
before Mr. Buckminster's settlement, possessed, on the contrary, a
graceful and dignified style of speaking, which was by no means without
its attraction, but he lacked the fervor that could rouse the masses,
and the original resources that could command the few."

As to his religious beliefs, Emerson writes to Dr. Sprague as follows:
"I did not find in any manuscript or printed sermons that I looked
at, any very explicit statement of opinion on the question between
Calvinists and Socinians. He inclines obviously to what is ethical
and universal in Christianity; very little to the personal and
historical.--I think I observe in his writings, as in the writings of
Unitarians down to a recent date, a studied reserve on the subject of
the nature and offices of Jesus. They had not made up their own minds on
it. It was a mystery to them, and they let it remain so."

Mr. William Emerson left, published, fifteen Sermons and Discourses, an
Oration pronounced at Boston on the Fourth of July, 1802, a Collection
of Psalms and Hymns, an Historical Sketch of the First Church in Boston,
besides his contributions to the "Monthly Anthology," of which he was
the Editor.

Ruth Haskins, the wife of William and the mother of Ralph Waldo
Emerson, is spoken of by the late Dr. Frothingham, in an article in the
"Christian Examiner," as a woman "of great patience and fortitude, of
the serenest trust in God, of a discerning spirit, and a most courteous
bearing, one who knew how to guide the affairs of her own house, as long
as she was responsible for that, with the sweetest authority, and knew
how to give the least trouble and the greatest happiness after that
authority was resigned. Both her mind and her character were of a
superior order, and they set their stamp upon manners of peculiar
softness and natural grace and quiet dignity. Her sensible and kindly
speech was always as good as the best instruction; her smile, though it
was ever ready, was a reward."

The Reverend Dr. Furness of Philadelphia, who grew up with her son,
says, "Waldo bore a strong resemblance to his father; the other children
resembled their mother."

Such was the descent of Ralph Waldo Emerson. If the ideas of parents
survive as impressions or tendencies in their descendants, no man had
a better right to an inheritance of theological instincts than this
representative of a long line of ministers. The same trains of thought
and feeling might naturally gain in force from another association of
near family relationship, though not of blood. After the death of the
first William Emerson, the Concord minister, his widow, Mr. Emerson's
grandmother, married, as has been mentioned, his successor, Dr. Ezra
Ripley. The grandson spent much time in the family of Dr. Ripley, whose
character he has drawn with exquisite felicity in a sketch read before
The Social Circle of Concord, and published in the "Atlantic Monthly"
for November, 1883. Mr. Emerson says of him: "He was identified with the
ideas and forms of the New England Church, which expired about the same
time with him, so that he and his coevals seemed the rear guard of the
great camp and army of the Puritans, which, however in its last days
declining into formalism, in the heyday of its strength had planted and
liberated America.... The same faith made what was strong and what was
weak in Dr. Ripley." It would be hard to find a more perfect sketch of
character than Mr. Emerson's living picture of Dr. Ripley. I myself
remember him as a comely little old gentleman, but he was not so
communicative in a strange household as his clerical brethren, smiling
John Foster of Brighton and chatty Jonathan Homer of Newton. Mr. Emerson
says, "He was a natural gentleman; no dandy, but courtly, hospitable,
manly, and public-spirited; his nature social, his house open to all
men.--His brow was serene and open to his visitor, for he loved men, and
he had no studies, no occupations, which company could interrupt. His
friends were his study, and to see them loosened his talents and his
tongue. In his house dwelt order and prudence and plenty. There was
no waste and no stint. He was open-handed and just and generous.
Ingratitude and meanness in his beneficiaries did not wear out his
compassion; he bore the insult, and the next day his basket for the
beggar, his horse and chaise for the cripple, were at their door." How
like Goldsmith's good Dr. Primrose! I do not know any writing of
Mr. Emerson which brings out more fully his sense of humor,--of the
picturesque in character,--and as a piece of composition, continuous,
fluid, transparent, with a playful ripple here and there, it is
admirable and delightful.

Another of his early companionships must have exercised a still more
powerful influence on his character,--that of his aunt, Mary Moody
Emerson. He gave an account of her in a paper read before the Woman's
Club several years ago, and published in the "Atlantic Monthly" for
December, 1883. Far more of Mr. Emerson is to be found in this aunt of
his than in any other of his relations in the ascending series, with
whose history we are acquainted. Her story is an interesting one, but
for that I must refer the reader to the article mentioned. Her character
and intellectual traits are what we are most concerned with. "Her early
reading was Milton, Young, Akenside, Samuel Clarke, Jonathan Edwards,
and always the Bible. Later, Plato, Plotinus, Marcus Antoninus, Stewart,
Coleridge, Herder, Locke, Madam De Stael, Channing, Mackintosh, Byron.
Nobody can read in her manuscript, or recall the conversation of
old-school people, without seeing that Milton and Young had a religious
authority in their minds, and nowise the slight merely entertaining
quality of modern bards. And Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus,--how venerable
and organic as Nature they are in her mind!"

There are many sentences cited by Mr. Emerson which remind us very
strongly of his own writings. Such a passage as the following might have
come from his Essay, "Nature," but it was written when her nephew was
only four years old.

"Malden, 1807, September.--The rapture of feeling I would part from
for days devoted to higher discipline. But when Nature beams with
such excess of beauty, when the heart thrills with hope in its
Author,--feels it is related to Him more than by any ties of
creation,--it exults, too fondly, perhaps, for a state of trial. But
in dead of night, nearer morning, when the eastern stars glow, or
appear to glow, with more indescribable lustre, a lustre which
penetrates the spirits with wonder and curiosity,--then, however
awed, who can fear?"--"A few pulsations of created beings, a few
successions of acts, a few lamps held out in the firmament, enable
us to talk of Time, make epochs, write histories,--to do more,--to
date the revelations of God to man. But these lamps are held to
measure out some of the moments of eternity, to divide the history
of God's operations in the birth and death of nations, of worlds. It
is a goodly name for our notions of breathing, suffering, enjoying,
acting. We personify it. We call it by every name of fleeting,
dreaming, vaporing imagery. Yet it is nothing. We exist in eternity.
Dissolve the body and the night is gone; the stars are extinguished,
and we measure duration by the number of our thoughts, by the
activity of reason, the discovery of truths, the acquirement of
virtue, the approval of God."

Miss Mary Emerson showed something of the same feeling towards natural
science which may be noted in her nephews Waldo and Charles. After
speaking of "the poor old earth's chaotic state, brought so near in its
long and gloomy transmutings by the geologist," she says:--

"Yet its youthful charms, as decked by the hand of Moses'
Cosmogony, will linger about the heart, while Poetry succumbs to
science."--"And the bare bones of this poor embryo earth may give
the idea of the Infinite, far, far better than when dignified with
arts and industry; its oceans, when beating the symbols of countless
ages, than when covered with cargoes of war and oppression. How
grand its preparation for souls, souls who were to feel the
Divinity, before Science had dissected the emotions and applied its
steely analysis to that state of being which recognizes neither
psychology nor element."--"Usefulness, if it requires action, seems
less like existence than the desire of being absorbed in God,
retaining consciousness.... Scorn trifles, lift your aims; do
what you are afraid to do. Sublimity of character must come from
sublimity of motive."

So far as hereditary and family influences can account for the character
and intellect of Ralph Waldo Emerson, we could hardly ask for a better
inborn inheritance, or better counsels and examples.

* * * * *

Having traced some of the distinguishing traits which belong by descent
to Mr. Emerson to those who were before him, it is interesting to note
how far they showed themselves in those of his own generation, his
brothers. Of these I will mention two, one of whom I knew personally.

Edward Bliss Emerson, who graduated at Harvard College in 1824, three
years after Ralph Waldo, held the first place in his class. He began
the study of the law with Daniel Webster, but overworked himself and
suffered a temporary disturbance of his reason. After this he made
another attempt, but found his health unequal to the task and exiled
himself to Porto Rico, where, in 1834, he died. Two poems preserve his
memory, one that of Ralph Waldo, in which he addresses his memory,--

"Ah, brother of the brief but blazing star,"

the other his own "Last Farewell," written in 1832, whilst sailing out
of Boston Harbor. The lines are unaffected and very touching, full of
that deep affection which united the brothers in the closest intimacy,
and of the tenderest love for the mother whom he was leaving to see no

I had in my early youth a key furnished me to some of the leading traits
which were in due time to develop themselves in Emerson's character and
intelligence. As on the wall of some great artist's studio one may find
unfinished sketches which he recognizes as the first growing conceptions
of pictures painted in after years, so we see that Nature often
sketches, as it were, a living portrait, which she leaves in its
rudimentary condition, perhaps for the reason that earth has no colors
which can worthily fill in an outline too perfect for humanity. The
sketch is left in its consummate incompleteness because this mortal life
is not rich enough to carry out the Divine idea.

Such an unfinished but unmatched outline is that which I find in the
long portrait-gallery of memory, recalled by the name of Charles Chauncy
Emerson. Save for a few brief glimpses of another, almost lost among my
life's early shadows, this youth was the most angelic adolescent my eyes
ever beheld. Remembering what well-filtered blood it was that ran in the
veins of the race from which he was descended, those who knew him in
life might well say with Dryden,--

"If by traduction came thy mind
Our wonder is the less to find
A soul so charming from a stock so good."

His image is with me in its immortal youth as when, almost fifty years
ago, I spoke of him in these lines, which I may venture to quote from
myself, since others have quoted them before me.

Thou calm, chaste scholar! I can see thee now,
The first young laurels on thy pallid brow,
O'er thy slight figure floating lightly down
In graceful folds the academic gown,
On thy curled lip the classic lines that taught
How nice the mind that sculptured them with thought,
And triumph glistening in the clear blue eye,
Too bright to live,--but O, too fair to die.

Being about seven years younger than Waldo, he must have received much
of his intellectual and moral guidance at his elder brother's hands.
I told the story at a meeting of our Historical Society of Charles
Emerson's coming into my study,--this was probably in 1826 or
1827,--taking up Hazlitt's "British Poets" and turning at once to a poem
of Marvell's, which he read with his entrancing voice and manner. The
influence of this poet is plain to every reader in some of Emerson's
poems, and Charles' liking for him was very probably caught from Waldo.
When Charles was nearly through college, a periodical called "The
Harvard Register" was published by students and recent graduates. Three
articles were contributed by him to this periodical. Two of them have
the titles "Conversation," "Friendship." His quotations are from Horace
and Juvenal, Plato, Plutarch, Bacon, Jeremy Taylor, Shakespeare, and
Scott. There are passages in these Essays which remind one strongly of
his brother, the Lecturer of twenty-five or thirty years later. Take
this as an example:--

"Men and mind are my studies. I need no observatory high in air to
aid my perceptions or enlarge my prospect. I do not want a costly
apparatus to give pomp to my pursuit or to disguise its inutility.
I do not desire to travel and see foreign lands and learn all
knowledge and speak with all tongues, before I am prepared for my
employment. I have merely to go out of my door; nay, I may stay at
home at my chambers, and I shall have enough to do and enjoy."

The feeling of this sentence shows itself constantly in Emerson's poems.
He finds his inspiration in the objects about him, the forest in which
he walks; the sheet of water which the hermit of a couple of seasons
made famous; the lazy Musketaquid; the titmouse that mocked his weakness
in the bitter cold winter's day; the mountain that rose in the horizon;
the lofty pines; the lowly flowers. All talked with him as brothers and
sisters, and he with them as of his own household.

The same lofty idea of friendship which we find in the man in his
maturity, we recognize in one of the Essays of the youth.

"All men of gifted intellect and fine genius," says Charles Emerson,
"must entertain a noble idea of friendship. Our reverence we are
constrained to yield where it is due,--to rank, merit, talents. But
our affections we give not thus easily.

'The hand of Douglas is his own.'"

--"I am willing to lose an hour in gossip with persons whom good
men hold cheap. All this I will do out of regard to the decent
conventions of polite life. But my friends I must know, and,
knowing, I must love. There must be a daily beauty in their life
that shall secure my constant attachment. I cannot stand upon the
footing of ordinary acquaintance. Friendship is aristocratical--the
affections which are prostituted to every suitor I will not accept."

Here are glimpses of what the youth was to be, of what the man who long
outlived him became. Here is the dignity which commands reverence,--a
dignity which, with all Ralph Waldo Emerson's sweetness of manner and
expression, rose almost to majesty in his serene presence. There was
something about Charles Emerson which lifted those he was with into
a lofty and pure region of thought and feeling. A vulgar soul stood
abashed in his presence. I could never think of him in the presence
of such, listening to a paltry sentiment or witnessing a mean action
without recalling Milton's line,

"Back stepped those two fair angels half amazed,"

and thinking how he might well have been taken for a celestial

No doubt there is something of idealization in all these reminiscences,
and of that exaggeration which belongs to the _laudator temporis acti_.
But Charles Emerson was idolized in his own time by many in college and
out of college. George Stillman Hillard was his rival. Neck and neck
they ran the race for the enviable position of first scholar in the
class of 1828, and when Hillard was announced as having the first part
assigned to him, the excitement within the college walls, and to some
extent outside of them, was like that when the telegraph proclaims the
result of a Presidential election,--or the Winner of the Derby. But
Hillard honestly admired his brilliant rival. "Who has a part with ****
at this next exhibition?" I asked him one day, as I met him in the
college yard. "***** the Post," answered Hillard. "Why call him _the
Post_?" said I. "He is a wooden creature," said Hillard. "Hear him and
Charles Emerson translating from the Latin _Domus tota inflammata erat_.
The Post will render the words, 'The whole house was on fire.' Charles
Emerson will translate the sentence 'The entire edifice was wrapped in
flames.'" It was natural enough that a young admirer should prefer the
Bernini drapery of Charles Emerson's version to the simple nudity of
"the Post's" rendering.

* * * * *

The nest is made ready long beforehand for the bird which is to be bred
in it and to fly from it. The intellectual atmosphere into which a
scholar is born, and from which he draws the breath of his early mental
life, must be studied if we would hope to understand him thoroughly.

When the present century began, the elements, thrown into confusion
by the long struggle for Independence, had not had time to arrange
themselves in new combinations. The active intellects of the country had
found enough to keep them busy in creating and organizing a new order of
political and social life. Whatever purely literary talent existed was
as yet in the nebular condition, a diffused luminous spot here and
there, waiting to form centres of condensation.

Such a nebular spot had been brightening in and about Boston for a
number of years, when, in the year 1804, a small cluster of names became
visible as representing a modest constellation of literary luminaries:
John Thornton Kirkland, afterwards President of Harvard University;
Joseph Stevens Buckminster; John Sylvester John Gardiner; William Tudor;
Samuel Cooper Thacher; William Emerson. These were the chief stars of
the new cluster, and their light reached the world, or a small part of
it, as reflected from the pages of "The Monthly Anthology," which very
soon came under the editorship of the Reverend William Emerson.

The father of Ralph Waldo Emerson may be judged of in good measure by
the associates with whom he was thus connected. A brief sketch of these
friends and fellow-workers of his may not be out of place, for these
men made the local sphere of thought into which Ralph Waldo Emerson was

John Thornton Kirkland should have been seen and heard as he is
remembered by old graduates of Harvard, sitting in the ancient
Presidential Chair, on Commencement Day, and calling in his penetrating
but musical accents: "_Expectatur Oratio in Lingua Latina_" or
"_Vernacula_," if the "First Scholar" was about to deliver the English
oration. It was a presence not to be forgotten. His "shining morning
face" was round as a baby's, and talked as pleasantly as his voice did,
with smiles for accents and dimples for punctuation. Mr. Ticknor speaks
of his sermons as "full of intellectual wealth and practical wisdom,
with sometimes a quaintness that bordered on humor." It was of him
that the story was always told,--it may be as old as the invention of
printing,--that he threw his sermons into a barrel, where they went to
pieces and got mixed up, and that when he was going to preach he fished
out what he thought would be about enough for a sermon, and patched the
leaves together as he best might. The Reverend Dr. Lowell says: "He
always found the right piece, and that was better than almost any of
his brethren could have found in what they had written with twice the
labor." Mr. Cabot, who knew all Emerson's literary habits, says he used
to fish out the number of leaves he wanted for a lecture in somewhat the
same way. Emerson's father, however, was very methodical, according
to Dr. Lowell, and had "a place for everything, and everything in its
place." Dr. Kirkland left little to be remembered by, and like many of
the most interesting personalities we have met with, has become a very
thin ghost to the grandchildren of his contemporaries.

Joseph Stevens Buckminster was the pulpit darling of his day, in Boston.
The beauty of his person, the perfection of his oratory, the finish of
his style, added to the sweetness of his character, made him one of
those living idols which seem to be as necessary to Protestantism as
images and pictures are to Romanism.

John Sylvester John Gardiner, once a pupil of the famous Dr. Parr, was
then the leading Episcopal clergyman of Boston. Him I reconstruct from
scattered hints I have met with as a scholarly, social man, with a
sanguine temperament and the cheerful ways of a wholesome English
parson, blest with a good constitution and a comfortable benefice. Mild
Orthodoxy, ripened in Unitarian sunshine, is a very agreeable aspect of
Christianity, and none was readier than Dr. Gardiner, if the voice of
tradition may be trusted, to fraternize with his brothers of the liberal
persuasion, and to make common cause with them in all that related to
the interests of learning.

William Tudor was a chief connecting link between the period of the
"Monthly Anthology," and that of the "North American Review," for he was
a frequent contributor to the first of these periodicals, and he was the
founder of the second. Edward Everett characterizes him, in speaking of
his "Letters on the Eastern States," as a scholar and a gentleman, an
impartial observer, a temperate champion, a liberal opponent, and a
correct writer. Daniel Webster bore similar testimony to his talents and

Samuel Cooper Thacher was hardly twenty years old when the "Anthology"
was founded, and died when he was only a little more than thirty. He
contributed largely to that periodical, besides publishing various
controversial sermons, and writing the "Memoir of Buckminster."

There was no more brilliant circle than this in any of our cities.
There was none where so much freedom of thought was united to so much
scholarship. The "Anthology" was the literary precursor of the "North
American Review," and the theological herald of the "Christian
Examiner." Like all first beginnings it showed many marks of immaturity.
It mingled extracts and original contributions, theology and medicine,
with all manner of literary chips and shavings. It had Magazine
ways that smacked of Sylvanus Urban; leading articles with balanced
paragraphs which recalled the marching tramp of Johnson; translations
that might have been signed with the name of Creech, and Odes to
Sensibility, and the like, which recalled the syrupy sweetness and
languid trickle of Laura Matilda's sentimentalities. It talked about
"the London Reviewers" with a kind of provincial deference. It printed
articles with quite too much of the license of Swift and Prior for the
Magazines of to-day. But it had opinions of its own, and would compare
well enough with the "Gentleman's Magazine," to say nothing of "My
Grandmother's Review, the British." A writer in the third volume (1806)
says: "A taste for the belles lettres is rapidly spreading in our
country. I believe that, fifty years ago, England had never seen a
Miscellany or a Review so well conducted as our 'Anthology,' however
superior such publications may now be in that kingdom."

It is well worth one's while to look over the volumes of the "Anthology"
to see what our fathers and grandfathers were thinking about, and how
they expressed themselves. The stiffness of Puritanism was pretty well
relaxed when a Magazine conducted by clergymen could say that "The
child,"--meaning the new periodical,--"shall not be destitute of the
manners of a gentleman, nor a stranger to genteel amusements. He shall
attend Theatres, Museums, Balls, and whatever polite diversions the town
shall furnish." The reader of the "Anthology" will find for his reward
an improving discourse on "Ambition," and a commendable schoolboy's
"theme" on "Inebriation." He will learn something which may be for his
advantage about the "Anjou Cabbage," and may profit by a "Remedy for
Asthma." A controversy respecting the merits of Sir Richard Blackmore
may prove too little exciting at the present time, and he can turn for
relief to the epistle "Studiosus" addresses to "Alcander." If the lines
of "The Minstrel" who hails, like Longfellow in later years, from "The
District of Main," fail to satisfy him, he cannot accuse "R.T. Paine,
Jr., Esq.," of tameness when he exclaims:--

"Rise Columbia, brave and free,
Poise the globe and bound the sea!"

But the writers did not confine themselves to native or even to English
literature, for there is a distinct mention of "Mr. Goethe's new novel,"
and an explicit reference to "Dante Aligheri, an Italian bard." But
let the smiling reader go a little farther and he will find Mr.
Buckminster's most interesting account of the destruction of Goldau.
And in one of these same volumes he will find the article, by Dr. Jacob
Bigelow, doubtless, which was the first hint of our rural cemeteries,
and foreshadowed that new era in our underground civilization which is
sweetening our atmospheric existence.

The late President Josiah Quincy, in his "History of the Boston
Athenaeum," pays a high tribute of respect to the memory and the
labors of the gentlemen who founded that institution and conducted the
"Anthology." A literary journal had already been published in Boston,
but very soon failed for want of patronage. An enterprising firm of
publishers, "being desirous that the work should be continued, applied
to the Reverend William Emerson, a clergyman of the place, distinguished
for energy and literary taste; and by his exertions several gentlemen
of Boston and its vicinity, conspicuous for talent and zealous for
literature, were induced to engage in conducting the work, and for this
purpose they formed themselves into a Society. This Society was not
completely organized until the year 1805, when Dr. Gardiner was elected
President, and William Emerson Vice-President. The Society thus formed
maintained its existence with reputation for about six years, and issued
ten octavo volumes from the press, constituting one of the most lasting
and honorable monuments of the literature of the period, and may be
considered as a true revival of polite learning in this country after
that decay and neglect which resulted from the distractions of the
Revolutionary War, and as forming an epoch in the intellectual history
of the United States. Its records yet remain, an evidence that it was a
pleasant, active, high-principled association of literary men, laboring
harmoniously to elevate the literary standard of the time, and with a
success which may well be regarded as remarkable, considering the little
sympathy they received from the community, and the many difficulties
with which they had to struggle."

The publication of the "Anthology" began in 1804, when Mr. William
Emerson was thirty-four years of age, and it ceased to be published in
the year of his death, 1811. Ralph Waldo Emerson was eight years old at
that time. His intellectual life began, we may say, while the somewhat
obscure afterglow of the "Anthology" was in the western horizon of the
New England sky.

The nebula which was to form a cluster about the "North American Review"
did not take definite shape until 1815. There is no such memorial of
the growth of American literature as is to be found in the first half
century of that periodical. It is easy to find fault with it for uniform
respectability and occasional dulness. But take the names of its
contributors during its first fifty years from the literary record of
that period, and we should have but a meagre list of mediocrities, saved
from absolute poverty by the genius of two or three writers like Irving
and Cooper. Strike out the names of Webster, Everett, Story, Sumner, and
Cushing; of Bryant, Dana, Longfellow, and Lowell; of Prescott, Ticknor,
Motley, Sparks, and Bancroft; of Verplanck, Hillard, and Whipple; of
Stuart and Robinson; of Norton, Palfrey, Peabody, and Bowen; and,
lastly, that of Emerson himself, and how much American classic
literature would be left for a new edition of "Miller's Retrospect"?

These were the writers who helped to make the "North American Review"
what it was during the period of Emerson's youth and early manhood.
These, and men like them, gave Boston its intellectual character. We
may count as symbols the three hills of "this darling town of ours,"
as Emerson called it, and say that each had its beacon. Civil liberty
lighted the torch on one summit, religious freedom caught the flame and
shone from the second, and the lamp of the scholar has burned steadily
on the third from the days when John Cotton preached his first sermon to
those in which we are living.

The social religious influences of the first part of the century
must not be forgotten. The two high-caste religions of that day were
white-handed Unitarianism and ruffled-shirt Episcopalianism. What called
itself "society" was chiefly distributed between them. Within less than
fifty years a social revolution has taken place which has somewhat
changed the relation between these and other worshipping bodies. This
movement is the general withdrawal of the native New Englanders of both
sexes from domestic service. A large part of the "hired help,"--for
the word servant was commonly repudiated,--worshipped, not with their
employers, but at churches where few or no well-appointed carriages
stood at the doors. The congregations that went chiefly from the
drawing-room and those which were largely made up of dwellers in the
culinary studio were naturally separated by a very distinct line of
social cleavage. A certain exclusiveness and fastidiousness, not
reminding us exactly of primitive Christianity, was the inevitable
result. This must always be remembered in judging the men and women
of that day and their immediate descendants, as much as the surviving
prejudices of those whose parents were born subjects of King George in
the days when loyalty to the crown was a virtue. The line of social
separation was more marked, probably, in Boston, the headquarters of
Unitarianism, than in the other large cities; and even at the present
day our Jerusalem and Samaria, though they by no means refuse dealing
with each other, do not exchange so many cards as they do checks and
dollars. The exodus of those children of Israel from the house of
bondage, as they chose to consider it, and their fusion with the mass of
independent citizens, got rid of a class distinction which was felt even
in the sanctuary. True religious equality is harder to establish than
civil liberty. No man has done more for spiritual republicanism than
Emerson, though he came from the daintiest sectarian circle of the time
in the whole country.

Such were Emerson's intellectual and moral parentage, nurture, and
environment; such was the atmosphere in which he grew up from youth to


Birthplace.--Boyhood.--College Life.

1803-1823. To _AET_. 20.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 25th of
May, 1803.

He was the second of five sons; William, R.W., Edward Bliss, Robert
Bulkeley, and Charles Chauncy.

His birthplace and that of our other illustrious Bostonian, Benjamin
Franklin, were within a kite-string's distance of each other. When
the baby philosopher of the last century was carried from Milk Street
through the narrow passage long known as Bishop's Alley, now Hawley
Street, he came out in Summer Street, very nearly opposite the spot
where, at the beginning of this century, stood the parsonage of the
First Church, the home of the Reverend William Emerson, its pastor, and
the birthplace of his son, Ralph Waldo. The oblong quadrangle between
Newbury, now Washington Street, Pond, now Bedford Street, Summer Street,
and the open space called Church Green, where the New South Church was
afterwards erected, is represented on Bonner's maps of 1722 and 1769 as
an almost blank area, not crossed or penetrated by a single passageway.

Even so late as less than half a century ago this region was still a
most attractive little _rus in urbe_. The sunny gardens of the late
Judge Charles Jackson and the late Mr. S.P. Gardner opened their flowers
and ripened their fruits in the places now occupied by great warehouses
and other massive edifices. The most aristocratic pears, the "Saint
Michael," the "Brown Bury," found their natural homes in these sheltered
enclosures. The fine old mansion of Judge William Prescott looked out
upon these gardens. Some of us can well remember the window of his
son's, the historian's, study, the light from which used every evening
to glimmer through the leaves of the pear-trees while "The Conquest of
Mexico" was achieving itself under difficulties hardly less formidable
than those encountered by Cortes. It was a charmed region in which
Emerson first drew his breath, and I am fortunate in having a
communication from one who knew it and him longer than almost any other
living person.

Mr. John Lowell Gardner, a college classmate and life-long friend of Mr.
Emerson, has favored me with a letter which contains matters of
interest concerning him never before given to the public. With his kind
permission I have made some extracts and borrowed such facts as seemed
especially worthy of note from his letter.

"I may be said to have known Emerson from the very beginning. A very
low fence divided my father's estate in Summer Street from the field
in which I remember the old wooden parsonage to have existed,--but
this field, when we were very young, was to be covered by Chauncy
Place Church and by the brick houses on Summer Street. Where the
family removed to I do not remember, but I always knew the boys,
William, Ralph, and perhaps Edward, and I again associated with
Ralph at the Latin School, where we were instructed by Master Gould
from 1815 to 1817, entering College in the latter year.

"... I have no recollection of his relative rank as a scholar, but it
was undoubtedly high, though not the highest. He never was idle or a
lounger, nor did he ever engage in frivolous pursuits. I should say
that his conduct was absolutely faultless. It was impossible that
there should be any feeling about him but of regard and affection.
He had then the same manner and courtly hesitation in addressing you
that you have known in him since. Still, he was not prominent in the
class, and, but for what all the world has since known of him,
his would not have been a conspicuous figure to his classmates in
recalling College days.

"The fact that we were almost the only Latin School fellows in the
class, and the circumstance that he was slow during the Freshman
year to form new acquaintances, brought us much together, and an
intimacy arose which continued through our College life. We were in
the habit of taking long strolls together, often stopping for repose
at distant points, as at Mount Auburn, etc.... Emerson was not
talkative; he never spoke for effect; his utterances were well
weighed and very deliberately made, but there was a certain flash
when he uttered anything that was more than usually worthy to be
remembered. He was so universally amiable and complying that my
evil spirit would sometimes instigate me to take advantage of his
gentleness and forbearance, but nothing could disturb his
equanimity. All that was wanting to render him an almost perfect
character was a few harsher traits and perhaps more masculine vigor.

"On leaving College our paths in life were so remote from each other
that we met very infrequently. He soon became, as it were, public
property, and I was engrossed for many years in my commercial
undertakings. All his course of life is known to many survivors. I
am inclined to believe he had a most liberal spirit. I remember that
some years since, when it was known that our classmate ---- was
reduced almost to absolute want by the war, in which he lost his two
sons, Emerson exerted himself to raise a fund among his classmates
for his relief, and, there being very few possible subscribers, made
what I considered a noble contribution, and this you may be sure was
not from any Southern sentiment on the part of Emerson. I send you
herewith the two youthful productions of Emerson of which I spoke to
you some time since."

The first of these is a prose Essay of four pages, written for a
discussion in which the Professions of Divinity, Medicine, and Law were
to be weighed against each other. Emerson had the Lawyer's side to
advocate. It is a fair and sensible paper, not of special originality or
brilliancy. His opening paragraph is worth citing, as showing the same
instinct for truth which displayed itself in all his after writings and
the conduct of his life.

"It is usual in advocating a favorite subject to appropriate all
possible excellence, and endeavor to concentrate every doubtful
auxiliary, that we may fortify to the utmost the theme of our
attention. Such a design should be utterly disdained, except as far
as is consistent with fairness; and the sophistry of weak arguments
being abandoned, a bold appeal should be made to the heart, for
the tribute of honest conviction, with regard to the merits of the

From many boys this might sound like well-meaning commonplace, but in
the history of Mr. Emerson's life that "bold appeal to the heart," that
"tribute of honest conviction," were made eloquent and real. The
boy meant it when he said it. To carry out his law of sincerity and
self-trust the man had to sacrifice much that was dear to him, but he
did not flinch from his early principles.

It must not be supposed that the blameless youth was an ascetic in his
College days. The other old manuscript Mr. Gardner sends me is marked
"'Song for Knights of Square Table,' R.W.E."

There are twelve verses of this song, with a chorus of two lines. The
Muses and all the deities, not forgetting Bacchus, were duly invited to
the festival.

"Let the doors of Olympus be open for all
To descend and make merry in Chivalry's hall."
* * * * *

Mr. Sanborn has kindly related to me several circumstances told him by
Emerson about his early years.

The parsonage was situated at the corner of Summer and what is now
Chauncy streets. It had a yard, and an orchard which Emerson said was as
large as Dr. Ripley's, which might have been some two or three acres.
Afterwards there was a brick house looking on Summer Street, in which
Emerson the father lived. It was separated, Emerson said, by a brick
wall from a garden in which _pears grew_ (a fact a boy is likely to
remember). Master Ralph Waldo used to _sit on this wall_,--but we cannot
believe he ever got off it on the wrong side, unless politely asked to
do so. On the occasion of some alarm the little boy was carried in his
nightgown to a neighboring house.

After Reverend William Emerson's death Mrs. Emerson removed to a house
in Beacon Street, where the Athenaeum Building now stands. She kept some
boarders,--among them Lemuel Shaw, afterwards Chief Justice of the State
of Massachusetts. It was but a short distance to the Common, and Waldo
and Charles used to drive their mother's cow there to pasture.

* * * * *

The Reverend Doctor Rufus Ellis, the much respected living successor of
William Emerson as Minister of the First Church, says that R.W. Emerson
must have been born in the old parsonage, as his father (who died
when he was eight years old) lived but a very short time in "the new
parsonage," which was, doubtless, the "brick house" above referred to.

* * * * *

We get a few glimpses of the boy from other sources. Mr. Cooke tells us
that he entered the public grammar school at the age of eight years, and
soon afterwards the Latin School. At the age of eleven he was turning
Virgil into very readable English heroics. He loved the study of Greek;
was fond of reading history and given to the frequent writing of verses.
But he thinks "the idle books under the bench at the Latin School" were
as profitable to him as his regular studies.

Another glimpse of him is that given us by Mr. Ireland from the "Boyhood
Memories" of Rufus Dawes. His old schoolmate speaks of him as "a
spiritual-looking boy in blue nankeen, who seems to be about ten years
old,--whose image more than any other is still deeply stamped upon my
mind, as I then saw him and loved him, I knew not why, and thought him
so angelic and remarkable." That "blue nankeen" sounds strangely, it may
be, to the readers of this later generation, but in the first quarter
of the century blue and yellow or buff-colored cotton from China were a
common summer clothing of children. The places where the factories and
streets of the cities of Lowell and Lawrence were to rise were then open
fields and farms. My recollection is that we did not think very highly
of ourselves when we were in blue nankeen,--a dull-colored fabric, too
nearly of the complexion of the slates on which we did our ciphering.

Emerson was not particularly distinguished in College. Having a near
connection in the same class as he, and being, as a Cambridge boy,
generally familiar with the names of the more noted young men in College
from the year when George Bancroft, Caleb Cushing, and Francis William
Winthrop graduated until after I myself left College, I might have
expected to hear something of a young man who afterwards became one of
the great writers of his time. I do not recollect hearing of him except
as keeping school for a short time in Cambridge, before he settled as a
minister. His classmate, Mr. Josiah Quincy, writes thus of his college

"Two only of my classmates can be fairly said to have got into
history, although one of them, Charles W. Upham [the connection of
mine referred to above] has written history very acceptably. Ralph
Waldo Emerson and Robert W. Barnwell, for widely different reasons,
have caused their names to be known to well-informed Americans. Of
Emerson, I regret to say, there are few notices in my journals. Here
is the sort of way in which I speak of the man who was to make so
profound an impression upon the thought of his time. 'I went to the
chapel to hear Emerson's dissertation: a very good one, but rather
too long to give much pleasure to the hearers.' The fault, I
suspect, was in the hearers; and another fact which I have mentioned
goes to confirm this belief. It seems that Emerson accepted the duty
of delivering the Poem on Class Day, after seven others had been
asked who positively, refused. So it appears that, in the opinion of
this critical class, the author of the 'Woodnotes' and the 'Humble
Bee' ranked about eighth in poetical ability. It can only be because
the works of the other five [seven] have been 'heroically unwritten'
that a different impression has come to prevail in the outside
world. But if, according to the measurement of undergraduates,
Emerson's ability as a poet was not conspicuous, it must also be
admitted that, in the judgment of persons old enough to know better,
he was not credited with that mastery of weighty prose which the
world has since accorded him. In our senior year the higher classes
competed for the Boylston prizes for English composition. Emerson
and I sent in our essays with the rest and were fortunate enough to
take the two prizes; but--Alas for the infallibility of academic
decisions! Emerson received the second prize. I was of course much
pleased with the award of this intelligent committee, and should
have been still more gratified had they mentioned that the man who
was to be the most original and influential writer born in America
was my unsuccessful competitor. But Emerson, incubating over deeper
matters than were dreamt of in the established philosophy of
elegant letters, seems to have given no sign of the power that was
fashioning itself for leadership in a new time. He was quiet,
unobtrusive, and only a fair scholar according to the standard of
the College authorities. And this is really all I have to say about
my most distinguished classmate."

Barnwell, the first scholar in the class, delivered the Valedictory
Oration, and Emerson the Poem. Neither of these performances was highly
spoken of by Mr. Quincy.

I was surprised to find by one of the old Catalogues that Emerson
roomed during a part of his College course with a young man whom I well
remember, J.G.K. Gourdin. The two Gourdins, Robert and John Gaillard
Keith, were dashing young fellows as I recollect them, belonging to
Charleston, South Carolina. The "Southerners" were the reigning College
_elegans_ of that time, the _merveilleux_, the _mirliflores_, of their
day. Their swallow-tail coats tapered to an arrow-point angle, and the
prints of their little delicate calfskin boots in the snow were objects
of great admiration to the village boys of the period. I cannot help
wondering what brought Emerson and the showy, fascinating John Gourdin
together as room-mates.


1823-1828. AET. 20-25.

Extract from a Letter to a Classmate.--School-Teaching.--Study of
Divinity.--"Approbated" to Preach.--Visit to the South.--Preaching in
Various Places.

We get a few brief glimpses of Emerson during the years following his
graduation. He writes in 1823 to a classmate who had gone from Harvard
to Andover:--

"I am delighted to hear there is such a profound studying of German
and Hebrew, Parkhurst and Jahn, and such other names as the memory
aches to think of, on foot at Andover. Meantime, Unitarianism will
not hide her honors; as many hard names are taken, and as much
theological mischief is planned, at Cambridge as at Andover. By the
time this generation gets upon the stage, if the controversy will
not have ceased, it will run such a tide that we shall hardly
he able to speak to one another, and there will be a Guelf and
Ghibelline quarrel, which cannot tell where the differences lie."

"You can form no conception how much one grovelling in the city
needs the excitement and impulse of literary example. The sight of
broad vellum-bound quartos, the very mention of Greek and German
names, the glimpse of a dusty, tugging scholar, will wake you up to
emulation for a month."

After leaving College, and while studying Divinity, Emerson employed a
part of his time in giving instruction in several places successively.

Emerson's older brother William was teaching in Boston, and Ralph Waldo,
after graduating, joined him in that occupation. In the year 1825 or
1826, he taught school also in Chelmsford, a town of Middlesex County,
Massachusetts, a part of which helped to constitute the city of Lowell.
One of his pupils in that school, the Honorable Josiah Gardiner Abbott,
has favored me with the following account of his recollections:--

The school of which Mr. Emerson had the charge was an old-fashioned
country "Academy." Mr. Emerson was probably studying for the ministry
while teaching there. Judge Abbott remembers the impression he made
on the boys. He was very grave, quiet, and very impressive in his
appearance. There was something engaging, almost fascinating, about him;
he was never harsh or severe, always perfectly self-controlled, never
punished except with words, but exercised complete command over the
boys. His old pupil recalls the stately, measured way in which, for some
offence the little boy had committed, he turned on him, saying only
these two words: "Oh, sad!" That was enough, for he had the faculty of
making the boys love him. One of his modes of instruction was to give
the boys a piece of reading to carry home with them,--from some book
like Plutarch's Lives,--and the next day to examine them and find out
how much they retained from their reading. Judge Abbott remembers a
peculiar look in his eyes, as if he saw something beyond what seemed to
be in the field of vision. The whole impression left on this pupil's
mind was such as no other teacher had ever produced upon him.

Mr. Emerson also kept a school for a short time at Cambridge, and among
his pupils was Mr. John Holmes. His impressions seem to be very much
like those of Judge Abbott.

My brother speaks of Mr. Emerson thus:--

"Calm, as not doubting the virtue residing in his sceptre. Rather
stern in his very infrequent rebukes. Not inclined to win boys by a
surface amiability, but kindly in explanation or advice. Every inch
a king in his dominion. Looking back, he seems to me rather like a
captive philosopher set to tending flocks; resigned to his destiny,
but not amused with its incongruities. He once recommended the use
of rhyme as a cohesive for historical items."

In 1823, two years after graduating, Emerson began studying for the
ministry. He studied under the direction of Dr. Charming, attending some
of the lectures in the Divinity School at Cambridge, though not enrolled
as one of its regular students.

The teachings of that day were such as would now be called
"old-fashioned Unitarianism." But no creed can be held to be a finality.
From Edwards to Mayhew, from Mayhew to Channing, from Channing to
Emerson, the passage is like that which leads from the highest lock of
a canal to the ocean level. It is impossible for human nature to remain
permanently shut up in the highest lock of Calvinism. If the gates are
not opened, the mere leakage of belief or unbelief will before long fill
the next compartment, and the freight of doctrine finds itself on
the lower level of Arminianism, or Pelagianism, or even subsides to
Arianism. From this level to that of Unitarianism the outlet is freer,
and the subsidence more rapid. And from Unitarianism to Christian
Theism, the passage is largely open for such as cannot accept the
evidence of the supernatural in the history of the church.

There were many shades of belief in the liberal churches. If De
Tocqueville's account of Unitarian preaching in Boston at the time of
his visit is true, the Savoyard Vicar of Rousseau would have preached
acceptably in some of our pulpits. In fact, the good Vicar might have
been thought too conservative by some of our unharnessed theologians.

At the period when Emerson reached manhood, Unitarianism was the
dominating form of belief in the more highly educated classes of both of
the two great New England centres, the town of Boston and the University
at Cambridge. President Kirkland was at the head of the College, Henry
Ware was Professor of Theology, Andrews Norton of Sacred Literature,
followed in 1830 by John Gorham Palfrey in the same office. James
Freeman, Charles Lowell, and William Ellery Channing were preaching in
Boston. I have mentioned already as a simple fact of local history, that
the more exclusive social circles of Boston and Cambridge were chiefly
connected with the Unitarian or Episcopalian churches. A Cambridge
graduate of ambition and ability found an opening far from undesirable
in a worldly point of view, in a profession which he was led to choose
by higher motives. It was in the Unitarian pulpit that the brilliant
talents of Buckminster and Everett had found a noble eminence from which
their light could shine before men.

Descended from a long line of ministers, a man of spiritual nature, a
reader of Plato, of Augustine, of Jeremy Taylor, full of hope for his
fellow-men, and longing to be of use to them, conscious, undoubtedly, of
a growing power of thought, it was natural that Emerson should turn from
the task of a school-master to the higher office of a preacher. It is
hard to conceive of Emerson in either of the other so-called learned
professions. His devotion to truth for its own sake and his feeling
about science would have kept him out of both those dusty highways. His
brother William had previously begun the study of Divinity, but found
his mind beset with doubts and difficulties, and had taken to the
profession of Law. It is not unlikely that Mr. Emerson was more or less
exercised with the same questionings. He has said, speaking of his
instructors: "If they had examined me, they probably would not have let
me preach at all." His eyes had given him trouble, so that he had not
taken notes of the lectures which he heard in the Divinity School, which
accounted for his being excused from examination. In 1826, after three
years' study, he was "approbated to preach" by the Middlesex Association
of Ministers. His health obliging him to seek a southern climate, he
went in the following winter to South Carolina and Florida. During this
absence he preached several times in Charleston and other places. On his
return from the South he preached in New Bedford, in Northampton, in
Concord, and in Boston. His attractiveness as a preacher, of which we
shall have sufficient evidence in a following chapter, led to his
being invited to share the duties of a much esteemed and honored city
clergyman, and the next position in which we find him is that of a
settled Minister in Boston.


1828-1833. AET. 25-30.

Settled as Colleague of Rev. Henry Ware.--Married to Ellen Louisa
Tucker.--Sermon at the Ordination of Rev. H.B. Goodwin.--His Pastoral
and Other Labors.--Emerson and Father Taylor.--Death of Mrs.
Emerson.--Difference of Opinion with some of his Parishioners.--Sermon
Explaining his Views.--Resignation of his Pastorate.

On the 11th of March, 1829, Emerson was ordained as colleague with
the Reverend Henry Ware, Minister of the Second Church in Boston. In
September of the same year he was married to Miss Ellen Louisa Tucker.
The resignation of his colleague soon after his settlement threw all the
pastoral duties upon the young minister, who seems to have performed
them diligently and acceptably. Mr. Conway gives the following brief
account of his labors, and tells in the same connection a story of
Father Taylor too good not to be repeated:--

"Emerson took an active interest in the public affairs of Boston.
He was on its School Board, and was chosen chaplain of the State
Senate. He invited the anti-slavery lecturers into his church, and
helped philanthropists of other denominations in their work. Father
Taylor [the Methodist preacher to the sailors], to whom Dickens gave
an English fame, found in him his most important supporter when
establishing the Seaman's Mission in Boston. This was told me by
Father Taylor himself in his old age. I happened to be in his
company once, when he spoke rather sternly about my leaving the
Methodist Church; but when I spoke of the part Emerson had in it, he
softened at once, and spoke with emotion of his great friend. I have
no doubt that if the good Father of Boston Seamen was proud of any
personal thing, it was of the excellent answer he is said to have
given to some Methodists who objected to his friendship for Emerson.
Being a Unitarian, they insisted that he must go to"--[the place
which a divine of Charles the Second's day said it was not good
manners to mention in church].--"'It does look so,' said Father
Taylor, 'but I am sure of one thing: if Emerson goes to'"--[that
place]--"'he will change the climate there, and emigration will set
that way.'"

In 1830, Emerson took part in the services at the ordination of the
Reverend H.B. Goodwin as Dr. Ripley's colleague. His address on giving
the right hand of fellowship was printed, but is not included among his
collected works.

The fair prospects with which Emerson began his life as a settled
minister were too soon darkened. In February, 1832, the wife of
his youth, who had been for some time in failing health, died of

He had become troubled with doubts respecting a portion of his duties,
and it was not in his nature to conceal these doubts from his people. On
the 9th of September, 1832, he preached a sermon on the Lord's Supper,
in which he announced unreservedly his conscientious scruples against
administering that ordinance, and the grounds upon which those scruples
were founded. This discourse, as his only printed sermon, and as one
which heralded a movement in New England theology which has never
stopped from that day to this, deserves some special notice. The sermon
is in no sense "Emersonian" except in its directness, its sweet temper,
and outspoken honesty. He argues from his comparison of texts in a
perfectly sober, old-fashioned way, as his ancestor Peter Bulkeley might
have done. It happened to that worthy forefather of Emerson that upon
his "pressing a piece of _Charity_ disagreeable to the will of the
_Ruling Elder_, there was occasioned an unhappy _Discord_ in the Church
of _Concord_; which yet was at last healed, by their calling in the help
of a _Council_ and the _Ruling Elder's_ Abdication." So says Cotton
Mather. Whether zeal had grown cooler or charity grown warmer in
Emerson's days we need not try to determine. The sermon was only a more
formal declaration of views respecting the Lord's Supper, which he had
previously made known in a conference with some of the most active
members of his church. As a committee of the parish reported resolutions
radically differing from his opinion on the subject, he preached this
sermon and at the same time resigned his office. There was no "discord,"
there was no need of a "council." Nothing could be more friendly, more
truly Christian, than the manner in which Mr. Emerson expressed himself
in this parting discourse. All the kindness of his nature warms it
throughout. He details the differences of opinion which have existed
in the church with regard to the ordinance. He then argues from the
language of the Evangelists that it was not intended to be a permanent
institution. He takes up the statement of Paul in the Epistle to the
Corinthians, which he thinks, all things considered, ought not to alter
our opinion derived from the Evangelists. He does not think that we are
to rely upon the opinions and practices of the primitive church. If that
church believed the institution to be permanent, their belief does not
settle the question for us. On every other subject, succeeding times
have learned to form a judgment more in accordance with the spirit of
Christianity than was the practice of the early ages.

"But, it is said, 'Admit that the rite was not designed to be
perpetual.' What harm doth it?"

He proceeds to give reasons which show it to be inexpedient to continue
the observance of the rite. It was treating that as authoritative which,
as he believed that he had shown from Scripture, was not so. It confused
the idea of God by transferring the worship of Him to Christ. Christ is
the Mediator only as the instructor of man. In the least petition to God
"the soul stands alone with God, and Jesus is no more present to your
mind than your brother or child." Again:--

"The use of the elements, however suitable to the people and the
modes of thought in the East, where it originated, is foreign and
unsuited to affect us. The day of formal religion is past, and we
are to seek our well-being in the formation of the soul. The Jewish
was a religion of forms; it was all body, it had no life, and the
Almighty God was pleased to qualify and send forth a man to teach
men that they must serve him with the heart; that only that life was
religious which was thoroughly good; that sacrifice was smoke and
forms were shadows. This man lived and died true to that purpose;
and with his blessed word and life before us, Christians must
contend that it is a matter of vital importance,--really a duty to
commemorate him by a certain form, whether that form be acceptable
to their understanding or not. Is not this to make vain the gift of
God? Is not this to turn back the hand on the dial?"

To these objections he adds the practical consideration that it brings
those who do not partake of the communion service into an unfavorable
relation with those who do.

The beautiful spirit of the man shows itself in all its noble sincerity
in these words at the close of his argument:--

"Having said this, I have said all. I have no hostility to this
institution; I am only stating my want of sympathy with it. Neither
should I ever have obtruded this opinion upon other people, had I
not been called by my office to administer it. That is the end of
my opposition, that I am not interested in it. I am content that it
stand to the end of the world if it please men and please Heaven,
and I shall rejoice in all the good it produces."

He then announces that, as it is the prevailing opinion and feeling
in our religious community that it is a part of a pastor's duties to
administer this rite, he is about to resign the office which had been
confided to him.

This is the only sermon of Mr. Emerson's ever published. It was
impossible to hear or to read it without honoring the preacher for his
truthfulness, and recognizing the force of his statement and reasoning.
It was equally impossible that he could continue his ministrations
over a congregation which held to the ordinance he wished to give up
entirely. And thus it was, that with the most friendly feelings on
both sides, Mr. Emerson left the pulpit of the Second Church and found
himself obliged to make a beginning in a new career.


1833-1838. AET. 30-35.

Section 1. Visit to Europe.--On his Return preaches in Different
Places.--Emerson in the Pulpit.--At Newton.--Fixes his Residence at
Concord.--The Old Manse.--Lectures in Boston.--Lectures on
Michael Angelo and on Milton published in the "North American
Review."--Beginning of the Correspondence with Carlyle.--Letters to the
Rev. James Freeman Clarke.--Republication of "Sartor Resartus."

Section 2. Emerson's Second Marriage.--His New Residence in
Concord.--Historical Address.--Course of Ten Lectures on English
Literature delivered in Boston.--The Concord Battle Hymn.--Preaching
in Concord and East Lexington.--Accounts of his Preaching by
Several Hearers.--A Course of Lectures on the Nature and Ends of
History.--Address on War.--Death of Edward Bliss Emerson.--Death of
Charles Chauncy Emerson.

Section 3. Publication of "Nature."--Outline of this Essay.--Its
Reception.--Address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society.

Section 1. In the year 1833 Mr. Emerson visited Europe for the first
time. A great change had come over his life, and he needed the relief
which a corresponding change of outward circumstances might afford
him. A brief account of this visit is prefixed to the volume entitled
"English Traits." He took a short tour, in which he visited Sicily,
Italy, and France, and, crossing from Boulogne, landed at the Tower
Stairs in London. He finds nothing in his Diary to publish concerning
visits to places. But he saw a number of distinguished persons, of whom
he gives pleasant accounts, so singularly different in tone from the
rough caricatures in which Carlyle vented his spleen and caprice, that
one marvels how the two men could have talked ten minutes together,
or would wonder, had not one been as imperturbable as the other was
explosive. Horatio Greenough and Walter Savage Landor are the chief
persons he speaks of as having met upon the Continent. Of these he
reports various opinions as delivered in conversation. He mentions
incidentally that he visited Professor Amici, who showed him his
microscopes "magnifying (it was said) two thousand diameters." Emerson
hardly knew his privilege; he may have been the first American to look
through an immersion lens with the famous Modena professor. Mr. Emerson
says that his narrow and desultory reading had inspired him with the
wish to see the faces of three or four writers, Coleridge, Wordsworth,
Landor, De Quincey, Carlyle. His accounts of his interviews with
these distinguished persons are too condensed to admit of further
abbreviation. Goethe and Scott, whom he would have liked to look upon,
were dead; Wellington he saw at Westminster Abbey, at the funeral of
Wilberforce. His impressions of each of the distinguished persons whom
he visited should be looked at in the light of the general remark which,

"The young scholar fancies it happiness enough to live with people
who can give an inside to the world; without reflecting that
they are prisoners, too, of their own thought, and cannot apply
themselves to yours. The conditions of literary success are almost
destructive of the best social power, as they do not have that
frolic liberty which only can encounter a companion on the best
terms. It is probable you left some obscure comrade at a tavern, or
in the farms, with right mother-wit, and equality to life, when you
crossed sea and land to play bo-peep with celebrated scribes. I
have, however, found writers superior to their books, and I cling to
my first belief that a strong head will dispose fast enough of these
impediments, and give one the satisfaction of reality, the sense of
having been met, and a larger horizon."

Emerson carried a letter of introduction to a gentleman in Edinburgh,
who, being unable to pay him all the desired attention, handed him over
to Mr. Alexander Ireland, who has given a most interesting account of
him as he appeared during that first visit to Europe. Mr. Ireland's
presentation of Emerson as he heard him in the Scotch pulpit shows
that he was not less impressive and attractive before an audience of
strangers than among his own countrymen and countrywomen:--

"On Sunday, the 18th of August, 1833, I heard him deliver a discourse in
the Unitarian Chapel, Young Street, Edinburgh, and I remember distinctly
the effect which it produced on his hearers. It is almost needless to
say that nothing like it had ever been heard by them before, and many of
them did not know what to make of it. The originality of his thoughts,
the consummate beauty of the language in which they were clothed, the
calm dignity of his bearing, the absence of all oratorical effort, and
the singular directness and simplicity of his manner, free from the
least shadow of dogmatic assumption, made a deep impression on me. Not
long before this I had listened to a wonderful sermon by Dr. Chalmers,
whose force, and energy, and vehement, but rather turgid eloquence
carried, for the moment, all before them,--his audience becoming like
clay in the hands of the potter. But I must confess that the pregnant
thoughts and serene self-possession of the young Boston minister had a
greater charm for me than all the rhetorical splendors of Chalmers. His
voice was the sweetest, the most winning and penetrating of any I ever
heard; nothing like it have I listened to since.

'That music in our hearts we bore
Long after it was heard no more.'"

Mr. George Gilfillan speaks of "the solemnity of his manner, and the
earnest thought pervading his discourse."

As to the effect of his preaching on his American audiences, I find the
following evidence in Mr. Cooke's diligently gathered collections. Mr.
Sanborn says:--

"His pulpit eloquence was singularly attractive, though by no means
equally so to all persons. In 1829, before the two friends had met,
Bronson Alcott heard him preach in Dr. Channing's church on 'The
Universality of the Moral Sentiment,' and was struck, as he said,
with the youth of the preacher, the beauty of his elocution and the
direct and sincere manner in which he addressed his hearers."

Mr. Charles Congdon, of New Bedford, well known as a popular
writer, gives the following account of Emerson's preaching in his
"Reminiscences." I borrow the quotation from Mr. Conway:--

"One day there came into our pulpit the most gracious of mortals,
with a face all benignity, who gave out the first hymn and made the
first prayer as an angel might have read and prayed. Our choir was
a pretty good one, but its best was coarse and discordant after
Emerson's voice. I remember of the sermon only that it had an
indefinite charm of simplicity and wisdom, with occasional
illustrations from nature, which were about the most delicate and
dainty things of the kind which I had ever heard. I could understand
them, if not the fresh philosophical novelties of the discourse."

Everywhere Emerson seems to have pleased his audiences. The Reverend Dr.
Morison, formerly the much respected Unitarian minister of New Bedford,
writes to me as follows:--

"After Dr. Dewey left New Bedford, Mr. Emerson preached there
several months, greatly to the satisfaction and delight of those who
heard him. The Society would have been glad to settle him as their
minister, and he would have accepted a call, had it not been for
some difference of opinion, I think, in regard to the communion
service. Judge Warren, who was particularly his friend, and had at
that time a leading influence in the parish, with all his admiration
for Mr. Emerson, did not think he could well be the pastor of a
Christian church, and so the matter was settled between him and his
friend, without any action by the Society."

All this shows well enough that his preaching was eminently acceptable.
But every one who has heard him lecture can form an idea of what he must
have been as a preacher. In fact, we have all listened, probably, to
many a passage from old sermons of his,--for he tells us he borrowed
from those old sermons for his lectures,--without ever thinking of the
pulpit from which they were first heard.

Among the stray glimpses we get of Emerson between the time when he
quitted the pulpit of his church and that when he came before the public
as a lecturer is this, which I owe to the kindness of Hon. Alexander H.
Rice. In 1832 or 1833, probably the latter year, he, then a boy, with
another boy, Thomas R. Gould, afterwards well known as a sculptor, being
at the Episcopal church in Newton, found that Mr. Emerson was sitting in
the pew behind them. Gould knew Mr. Emerson, and introduced young Rice
to him, and they walked down the street together. As they went along,
Emerson burst into a rhapsody over the Psalms of David, the sublimity of
thought, and the poetic beauty of expression of which they are full, and
spoke also with enthusiasm of the Te Deum as that grand old hymn which
had come down through the ages, voicing the praises of generation after

When they parted at the house of young Rice's father, Emerson invited
the boys to come and see him at the Allen farm, in the afternoon. They
came to a piece of woods, and, as they entered it, took their hats off.
"Boys," said Emerson, "here we recognize the presence of the Universal
Spirit. The breeze says to us in its own language, How d' ye do? How d'
ye do? and we have already taken our hats off and are answering it with
our own How d' ye do? How d' ye do? And all the waving branches of
the trees, and all the flowers, and the field of corn yonder, and the
singing brook, and the insect and the bird,--every living thing and
things we call inanimate feel the same divine universal impulse while
they join with us, and we with them, in the greeting which is the
salutation of the Universal Spirit."

We perceive the same feeling which pervades many of Emerson's earlier
Essays and much of his verse, in these long-treasured reminiscences
of the poetical improvisation with which the two boys were thus
unexpectedly favored. Governor Rice continues:--

"You know what a captivating charm there always was in Emerson's
presence, but I can never tell you how this line of thought then
impressed a country boy. I do not remember anything about the
remainder of that walk, nor of the after-incidents of that day,--I
only remember that I went home wondering about that mystical dream
of the Universal Spirit, and about what manner of man he was under
whose influence I had for the first time come....

"The interview left impressions that led me into new channels of
thought which have been a life-long pleasure to me, and, I doubt
not, taught me somewhat how to distinguish between mere theological
dogma and genuine religion in the soul."

In the summer of 1834 Emerson became a resident of Concord,
Massachusetts, the town of his forefathers, and the place destined to
be his home for life. He first lived with his venerable connection, Dr.
Ripley, in the dwelling made famous by Hawthorne as the "Old Manse." It
is an old-fashioned gambrel-roofed house, standing close to the scene
of the Fight on the banks of the river. It was built for the Reverend
William Emerson, his grandfather. In one of the rooms of this house
Emerson wrote "Nature," and in the same room, some years later,
Hawthorne wrote "Mosses from an Old Manse."

The place in which Emerson passed the greater part of his life well
deserves a special notice. Concord might sit for its portrait as an
ideal New England town. If wanting in the variety of surface which
many other towns can boast of, it has at least a vision of the distant
summits of Monadnock and Wachusett. It has fine old woods, and noble
elms to give dignity to its open spaces. Beautiful ponds, as they
modestly call themselves,--one of which, Walden, is as well known in our
literature as Windermere in that of Old England,--lie quietly in their
clean basins. And through the green meadows runs, or rather lounges,
a gentle, unsalted stream, like an English river, licking its grassy
margin with a sort of bovine placidity and contentment. This is the
Musketaquid, or Meadow River, which, after being joined by the more
restless Assabet, still keeps its temper and flows peacefully along by
and through other towns, to lose itself in the broad Merrimac. The names
of these rivers tell us that Concord has an Indian history, and there is
evidence that it was a favorite residence of the race which preceded our
own. The native tribes knew as well as the white settlers where were
pleasant streams and sweet springs, where corn grew tall in the meadows
and fish bred fast in the unpolluted waters.

The place thus favored by nature can show a record worthy of its
physical attractions. Its settlement under the lead of Emerson's
ancestor, Peter Bulkeley, was effected in the midst of many
difficulties, which the enterprise and self-sacrifice of that noble
leader were successful in overcoming. On the banks of the Musketaquid
was fired the first fatal shot of the "rebel" farmers. Emerson appeals
to the Records of the town for two hundred years as illustrating the
working of our American institutions and the character of the men of

"If the good counsel prevailed, the sneaking counsel did not fail to
be suggested; freedom and virtue, if they triumphed, triumphed in a
fair field. And so be it an everlasting testimony for them, and so
much ground of assurance of man's capacity for self-government."

What names that plain New England town reckons in the roll of its
inhabitants! Stout Major Buttrick and his fellow-soldiers in the war of
Independence, and their worthy successors in the war of Freedom; lawyers
and statesmen like Samuel Hoar and his descendants; ministers like Peter
Bulkeley, Daniel Bliss, and William Emerson; and men of genius such as
the idealist and poet whose inspiration has kindled so many souls; as
the romancer who has given an atmosphere to the hard outlines of our
stern New England; as that unique individual, half college-graduate and
half Algonquin, the Robinson Crusoe of Walden Pond, who carried out a
school-boy whim to its full proportions, and told the story of Nature in
undress as only one who had hidden in her bedroom could have told it. I
need not lengthen the catalogue by speaking of the living, or mentioning
the women whose names have added to its distinction. It has long been an
intellectual centre such as no other country town of our own land, if of
any other, could boast. Its groves, its streams, its houses, are haunted
by undying memories, and its hillsides and hollows are made holy by the
dust that is covered by their turf.

Such was the place which the advent of Emerson made the Delphi of New
England and the resort of many pilgrims from far-off regions.

On his return from Europe in the winter of 1833-4, Mr. Emerson began to
appear before the public as a lecturer. His first subjects, "Water," and
the "Relation of Man to the Globe," were hardly such as we should have
expected from a scholar who had but a limited acquaintance with physical
and physiological science. They were probably chosen as of a popular
character, easily treated in such a way as to be intelligible and
entertaining, and thus answering the purpose of introducing him
pleasantly to the new career he was contemplating. These lectures are
not included in his published works, nor were they ever published, so
far as I know. He gave three lectures during the same winter, relating
the experiences of his recent tour in Europe. Having made himself at
home on the platform, he ventured upon subjects more congenial to his
taste and habits of thought than some of those earlier topics. In 1834
he lectured on Michael Angelo, Milton, Luther, George Fox, and Edmund
Burke. The first two of these lectures, though not included in his
collected works, may be found in the "North American Review" for 1837
and 1838. The germ of many of the thoughts which he has expanded in
prose and verse may be found in these Essays.

The _Cosmos_ of the Ancient Greeks, the _piu nel' uno_, "The Many in
One," appear in the Essay on Michael Angelo as they also appear in his
"Nature." The last thought takes wings to itself and rises in the little
poem entitled "Each and All." The "Rhodora," another brief poem, finds
itself foreshadowed in the inquiry, "What is Beauty?" and its answer,
"This great Whole the understanding cannot embrace. Beauty may be felt.
It may be produced. But it cannot be defined." And throughout this Essay
the feeling that truth and beauty and virtue are one, and that Nature is
the symbol which typifies it to the soul, is the inspiring sentiment.
_Noscitur a sociis_ applies as well to a man's dead as to his living
companions. A young friend of mine in his college days wrote an essay on
Plato. When he mentioned his subject to Mr. Emerson, he got the caution,
long remembered, "When you strike at a _King_, you must kill him."
He himself knew well with what kings of thought to measure his own
intelligence. What was grandest, loftiest, purest, in human character
chiefly interested him. He rarely meddles with what is petty or ignoble.
Like his "Humble Bee," the "yellow-breeched philosopher," whom he speaks
of as

"Wiser far than human seer,"

and says of him,

"Aught unsavory or unclean
Hath my insect never seen,"

he goes through the world where coarser minds find so much that is
repulsive to dwell upon,

"Seeing only what is fair,
Sipping only what is sweet."

Why Emerson selected Michael Angelo as the subject of one of his
earliest lectures is shown clearly enough by the last sentence as
printed in the Essay.

"He was not a citizen of any country; he belonged to the human race;
he was a brother and a friend to all who acknowledged the beauty
that beams in universal nature, and who seek by labor and
self-denial to approach its source in perfect goodness."

Consciously or unconsciously men describe themselves in the characters
they draw. One must have the mordant in his own personality or he will
not take the color of his subject. He may force himself to picture that
which he dislikes or even detests; but when he loves the character he
delineates, it is his own, in some measure, at least, or one of which he
feels that its possibilities and tendencies belong to himself. Let us
try Emerson by this test in his "Essay on Milton:"--

"It is the prerogative of this great man to stand at this hour
foremost of all men in literary history, and so (shall we not say?)
of all men, in the power to _inspire_. Virtue goes out of him into
others." ... "He is identified in the mind with all select and holy
images, with the supreme interests of the human race."--"Better than
any other he has discharged the office of every great man, namely,
to raise the idea of Man in the minds of his contemporaries and of
posterity,--to draw after nature a life of man, exhibiting such a
composition of grace, of strength, and of virtue as poet had not
described nor hero lived. Human nature in these ages is indebted to
him for its best portrait. Many philosophers in England, France, and
Germany, have formally dedicated their study to this problem; and
we think it impossible to recall one in those countries who
communicates the same vibration of hope, of self-reverence, of
piety, of delight in beauty, which the name of Milton awakes."

Emerson had the same lofty aim as Milton, "To raise the idea of man;"
he had "the power _to inspire_" in a preeminent degree. If ever a man
communicated those _vibrations_ he speaks of as characteristic of
Milton, it was Emerson. In elevation, purity, nobility of nature, he is
worthy to stand with the great poet and patriot, who began like him as a
school-master, and ended as the teacher in a school-house which had for
its walls the horizons of every region where English is spoken. The
similarity of their characters might be followed by the curious into
their fortunes. Both were turned away from the clerical office by a
revolt of conscience against the beliefs required of them; both lost
very dear objects of affection in early manhood, and mourned for them
in tender and mellifluous threnodies. It would be easy to trace many
parallelisms in their prose and poetry, but to have dared to name any
man whom we have known in our common life with the seraphic singer
of the Nativity and of Paradise is a tribute which seems to savor of
audacity. It is hard to conceive of Emerson as "an expert swordsman"
like Milton. It is impossible to think of him as an abusive
controversialist as Milton was in his controversy with Salmasius. But
though Emerson never betrayed it to the offence of others, he must have
been conscious, like Milton, of "a certain niceness of nature, an honest
haughtiness," which was as a shield about his inner nature. Charles
Emerson, the younger brother, who was of the same type, expresses the
feeling in his college essay on Friendship, where it is all summed up in
the line he quotes:--

"The hand of Douglas is his own."

It must be that in writing this Essay on Milton Emerson felt that he was
listening in his own soul to whispers that seemed like echoes from that
of the divine singer.

* * * * *

My friend, the Rev. James Freeman Clarke, a life-long friend of Emerson,
who understood him from the first, and was himself a great part in the
movement of which Emerson, more than any other man, was the leader, has
kindly allowed me to make use of the following letters:--


PLYMOUTH, MASS., March 12, 1834.

MY DEAR SIR,--As the day approaches when Mr. Lewis should leave
Boston, I seize a few moments in a friendly house in the first of
towns, to thank you heartily for your kindness in lending me the
valued manuscripts which I return. The translations excited me much,
and who can estimate the value of a good thought? I trust I am to
learn much more from you hereafter of your German studies, and much
I hope of your own. You asked in your note concerning Carlyle. My
recollections of him are most pleasant, and I feel great confidence
in his character. He understands and recognizes his mission. He is
perfectly simple and affectionate in his manner, and frank, as he
can well afford to be, in his communications. He expressed some
impatience of his total solitude, and talked of Paris as a
residence. I told him I hoped not; for I should always remember
him with respect, meditating in the mountains of Nithsdale. He was
cheered, as he ought to be, by learning that his papers were read
with interest by young men unknown to him in this continent; and
when I specified a piece which had attracted warm commendation from
the New Jerusalem people here, his wife said that is always the way;
whatever he has writ that he thinks has fallen dead, he hears of
two or three years afterward.--He has many, many tokens of Goethe's
regard, miniatures, medals, and many letters. If you should go to
Scotland one day, you would gratify him, yourself, and me, by your
visit to Craigenputtock, in the parish of Dunscore, near Dumfries.
He told me he had a book which he thought to publish, but was in
the purpose of dividing into a series of articles for "Fraser's
Magazine." I therefore subscribed for that book, which he calls the
"Mud Magazine," but have seen nothing of his workmanship in the two
last numbers. The mail is going, so I shall finish my letter another

Your obliged friend and servant,


CONCORD, MASS., November 25, 1834.

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