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Essays Before a Sonata by Charles Ives

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Charles Ives (1874-1954) was probably one of the most psycho-
intellectually brilliant, imaginative and flexible Americans to
ever "walk the land of freedom." A graduate of Yale, he became a
multi-millionaire in the American insurance industry, introducing
brilliant innovations within that industry. He also, unlike a
few composers, found the time and the money (being a shrewd and
practical businessman) to get married and have children.

His accomplishments for which he is best known, however, are
those in the field of music. At the time of its composition,
Ives' music was probably the most radically modern in history,
and by itself had enough material to serve as the foundation of
modern 20th century music. For example, at the turn of the
century, this eccentric composer created band works featuring
multiple melodies of multiple time signatures opposing and
complimenting each other within the same piece. Ives was also a
revolutionary atonal composer, who created, essentially without
precedent, many atonal works that not only pre-date those of
Schoenberg, but are just as sophisticated, and arguably even more
so, than those of the 12-tone serialist.

Among those atonal works was his second, "Concord" piano sonata,
one of the finest, and some would say the finest, works of
classical music by an American. It reflects the musical
innovations of its creator, featuring revolutionary atmospheric
effects, unprecedented atonal musical syntax, and surprising
technical approaches to playing the piano, such as pressing down
on over 10 notes simultaneously using a flat piece of wood.

What a mischievious creative genius!

And yet, despite the musically innovative nature of these works,
from a thematic standpoint, they are strictly 19th century.
Ives, like American band-composer Sousa, consciously infused
patriotic or "blue-blood" themes into his pieces. In the
"Concord," he attempted to project, within the music, the 19th
century philosophical ideas of the American Transcendentalists,
who obviously had a great impact on his world-view.

Thus, while other atonal composers such as Schoenberg or Berg
attempted to infuse their music with "20th century" themes of
hostility, violence and estrangement within their atonal music,
the atonal music of Ives is, from a thematic standpoint, really
quite "tonal."

Ives wrote the following essays as a (very big) set of program
notes to accompany his second piano sonata. Here, he puts forth
his elaborate theory of music and what it represents, and
discusses Transcendental philosophy and its relation to music.
The essays explain Ives' own philosophy of and understanding of
music and art. They also serve as an analysis of music itself as
an artform, and provide a critical explanation of the "Concord"
and the role that the philosophies of Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau
and the Alcotts play in forming its thematic structure.



"These prefatory essays were written by the composer for those
who can't stand his music--and the music for those who can't
stand his essays; to those who can't stand either, the whole is
respectfully dedicated."


The following pages were written primarily as a preface or reason
for the [writer's] second Pianoforte Sonata--"Concord, Mass.,
1845,"--a group of four pieces, called a sonata for want of a
more exact name, as the form, perhaps substance, does not justify
it. The music and prefaces were intended to be printed together,
but as it was found that this would make a cumbersome volume they
are separate. The whole is an attempt to present [one person's]
impression of the spirit of transcendentalism that is associated
in the minds of many with Concord, Mass., of over a half century
ago. This is undertaken in impressionistic pictures of Emerson
and Thoreau, a sketch of the Alcotts, and a Scherzo supposed to
reflect a lighter quality which is often found in the fantastic
side of Hawthorne. The first and last movements do not aim to
give any programs of the life or of any particular work of either
Emerson or Thoreau but rather composite pictures or impressions.
They are, however, so general in outline that, from some
viewpoints, they may be as far from accepted impressions (from
true conceptions, for that matter) as the valuation which they
purport to be of the influence of the life, thought, and
character of Emerson and Thoreau is inadequate.


How far is anyone justified, be he an authority or a layman, in
expressing or trying to express in terms of music (in sounds, if
you like) the value of anything, material, moral, intellectual,
or spiritual, which is usually expressed in terms other than
music? How far afield can music go and keep honest as well as
reasonable or artistic? Is it a matter limited only by the
composer's power of expressing what lies in his subjective or
objective consciousness? Or is it limited by any limitations of
the composer? Can a tune literally represent a stonewall with
vines on it or with nothing on it, though it (the tune) be made
by a genius whose power of objective contemplation is in the
highest state of development? Can it be done by anything short of
an act of mesmerism on the part of the composer or an act of
kindness on the part of the listener? Does the extreme
materializing of music appeal strongly to anyone except to those
without a sense of humor--or rather with a sense of humor?--or,
except, possibly to those who might excuse it, as Herbert Spencer
might by the theory that the sensational element (the sensations
we hear so much about in experimental psychology) is the true
pleasurable phenomenon in music and that the mind should not be
allowed to interfere? Does the success of program music depend
more upon the program than upon the music? If it does, what is
the use of the music, if it does not, what is the use of the
program? Does not its appeal depend to a great extent on the
listener's willingness to accept the theory that music is the
language of the emotions and ONLY that? Or inversely does not
this theory tend to limit music to programs?--a limitation as bad
for music itself--for its wholesome progress,--as a diet of
program music is bad for the listener's ability to digest
anything beyond the sensuous (or physical-emotional). To a great
extent this depends on what is meant by emotion or on the
assumption that the word as used above refers more to the
EXPRESSION, of, rather than to a meaning in a deeper sense--which
may be a feeling influenced by some experience perhaps of a
spiritual nature in the expression of which the intellect has
some part. "The nearer we get to the mere expression of emotion,"
says Professor Sturt in his "Philosophy of Art and Personality,"
"as in the antics of boys who have been promised a holiday, the
further we get away from art."

On the other hand is not all music, program-music,--is not pure
music, so called, representative in its essence? Is it not
program-music raised to the nth power or rather reduced to the
minus nth power? Where is the line to be drawn between the
expression of subjective and objective emotion? It is easier to
know what each is than when each becomes what it is. The
"Separateness of Art" theory--that art is not life but a
reflection of it--"that art is not vital to life but that life is
vital to it," does not help us. Nor does Thoreau who says not
that "life is art," but that "life is an art," which of course is
a different thing than the foregoing. Tolstoi is even more
helpless to himself and to us. For he eliminates further. From
his definition of art we may learn little more than that a kick
in the back is a work of art, and Beethoven's 9th Symphony is
not. Experiences are passed on from one man to another. Abel knew
that. And now we know it. But where is the bridge placed?--at the
end of the road or only at the end of our vision? Is it all a
bridge?--or is there no bridge because there is no gulf? Suppose
that a composer writes a piece of music conscious that he is
inspired, say, by witnessing an act of great self-sacrifice--
another piece by the contemplation of a certain trait of nobility
he perceives in a friend's character--and another by the sight of
a mountain lake under moonlight. The first two, from an
inspirational standpoint would naturally seem to come under the
subjective and the last under the objective, yet the chances are,
there is something of the quality of both in all. There may have
been in the first instance physical action so intense or so
dramatic in character that the remembrance of it aroused a great
deal more objective emotion than the composer was conscious of
while writing the music. In the third instance, the music may
have been influenced strongly though subconsciously by a vague
remembrance of certain thoughts and feelings, perhaps of a deep
religious or spiritual nature, which suddenly came to him upon
realizing the beauty of the scene and which overpowered the first
sensuous pleasure--perhaps some such feeling as of the conviction
of immortality, that Thoreau experienced and tells about in
Walden. "I penetrated to those meadows...when the wild river and
the woods were bathed in so pure and bright a light as would have
waked the dead IF they had been slumbering in their graves as
some suppose. There needs no stronger proof of immortality."
Enthusiasm must permeate it, but what it is that inspires an art-
effort is not easily determined much less classified. The word
"inspire" is used here in the sense of cause rather than effect.
A critic may say that a certain movement is not inspired. But
that may be a matter of taste--perhaps the most inspired music
sounds the least so--to the critic. A true inspiration may lack a
true expression unless it is assumed that if an inspiration is
not true enough to produce a true expression--(if there be anyone
who can definitely determine what a true expression is)--it is
not an inspiration at all.

Again suppose the same composer at another time writes a piece of
equal merit to the other three, as estimates go; but holds that
he is not conscious of what inspired it--that he had nothing
definite in mind--that he was not aware of any mental image or
process--that, naturally, the actual work in creating something
gave him a satisfying feeling of pleasure perhaps of elation.
What will you substitute for the mountain lake, for his friend's
character, etc.? Will you substitute anything? If so why? If so
what? Or is it enough to let the matter rest on the pleasure
mainly physical, of the tones, their color, succession, and
relations, formal or informal? Can an inspiration come from a
blank mind? Well--he tries to explain and says that he was
conscious of some emotional excitement and of a sense of
something beautiful, he doesn't know exactly what--a vague
feeling of exaltation or perhaps of profound sadness.

What is the source of these instinctive feelings, these vague
intuitions and introspective sensations? The more we try to
analyze the more vague they become. To pull them apart and
classify them as "subjective" or "objective" or as this or as
that, means, that they may be well classified and that is about
all: it leaves us as far from the origin as ever. What does it
all mean? What is behind it all? The "voice of God," says the
artist, "the voice of the devil," says the man in the front row.
Are we, because we are, human beings, born with the power of
innate perception of the beautiful in the abstract so that an
inspiration can arise through no external stimuli of sensation or
experience,--no association with the outward? Or was there
present in the above instance, some kind of subconscious,
instantaneous, composite image, of all the mountain lakes this
man had ever seen blended as kind of overtones with the various
traits of nobility of many of his friends embodied in one
personality? Do all inspirational images, states, conditions, or
whatever they may be truly called, have for a dominant part, if
not for a source, some actual experience in life or of the social
relation? To think that they do not--always at least--would be a
relief; but as we are trying to consider music made and heard by
human beings (and not by birds or angels) it seems difficult to
suppose that even subconscious images can be separated from some
human experience--there must be something behind subconsciousness
to produce consciousness, and so on. But whatever the elements
and origin of these so-called images are, that they DO stir deep
emotional feelings and encourage their expression is a part of
the unknowable we know. They do often arouse something that has
not yet passed the border line between subconsciousness and
consciousness--an artistic intuition (well named, but)--object
and cause unknown!--here is a program!--conscious or subconscious
what does it matter? Why try to trace any stream that flows
through the garden of consciousness to its source only to be
confronted by another problem of tracing this source to its
source? Perhaps Emerson in the _Rhodora_ answers by not trying to

That if eyes were made for seeing Then beauty is its own excuse
for being: Why thou wert there, O, rival of the rose! I never
thought to ask, I never knew; But, in my simple ignorance,
suppose The self-same Power that brought me there brought you.

Perhaps Sturt answers by substitution: "We cannot explain the
origin of an artistic intuition any more than the origin of any
other primary function of our nature. But if as I believe
civilization is mainly founded on those kinds of unselfish human
interests which we call knowledge and morality it is easily
intelligible that we should have a parallel interest which we
call art closely akin and lending powerful support to the other
two. It is intelligible too that moral goodness, intellectual
power, high vitality, and strength should be approved by the
intuition." This reduces, or rather brings the problem back to a
tangible basis namely:--the translation of an artistic intuition
into musical sounds approving and reflecting, or endeavoring to
approve and reflect, a "moral goodness," a "high vitality," etc.,
or any other human attribute mental, moral, or spiritual.

Can music do MORE than this? Can it DO this? and if so who and
what is to determine the degree of its failure or success? The
composer, the performer (if there be any), or those who have to
listen? One hearing or a century of hearings?-and if it isn't
successful or if it doesn't fail what matters it?--the fear of
failure need keep no one from the attempt for if the composer is
sensitive he need but launch forth a countercharge of "being
misunderstood" and hide behind it. A theme that the composer sets
up as "moral goodness" may sound like "high vitality," to his
friend and but like an outburst of "nervous weakness" or only a
"stagnant pool" to those not even his enemies. Expression to a
great extent is a matter of terms and terms are anyone's. The
meaning of "God" may have a billion interpretations if there be
that many souls in the world.

There is a moral in the "Nominalist and Realist" that will prove
all sums. It runs something like this: No matter how sincere and
confidential men are in trying to know or assuming that they do
know each other's mood and habits of thought, the net result
leaves a feeling that all is left unsaid; for the reason of their
incapacity to know each other, though they use the same words.
They go on from one explanation to another but things seem to
stand about as they did in the beginning "because of that vicious
assumption." But we would rather believe that music is beyond any
analogy to word language and that the time is coming, but not in
our lifetime, when it will develop possibilities unconceivable
now,--a language, so transcendent, that its heights and depths
will be common to all mankind.



It has seemed to the writer, that Emerson is greater--his
identity more complete perhaps--in the realms of revelation--
natural disclosure--than in those of poetry, philosophy, or
prophecy. Though a great poet and prophet, he is greater,
possibly, as an invader of the unknown,--America's deepest
explorer of the spiritual immensities,--a seer painting his
discoveries in masses and with any color that may lie at hand--
cosmic, religious, human, even sensuous; a recorder, freely
describing the inevitable struggle in the soul's uprise--
perceiving from this inward source alone, that every "ultimate
fact is only the first of a new series"; a discoverer, whose
heart knows, with Voltaire, "that man seriously reflects when
left alone," and would then discover, if he can, that "wondrous
chain which links the heavens with earth--the world of beings
subject to one law." In his reflections Emerson, unlike Plato, is
not afraid to ride Arion's Dolphin, and to go wherever he is
carried--to Parnassus or to "Musketaquid."

We see him standing on a summit, at the door of the infinite
where many men do not care to climb, peering into the mysteries
of life, contemplating the eternities, hurling back whatever he
discovers there,--now, thunderbolts for us to grasp, if we can,
and translate--now placing quietly, even tenderly, in our hands,
things that we may see without effort--if we won't see them, so
much the worse for us.

We see him,--a mountain-guide, so intensely on the lookout for
the trail of his star, that he has no time to stop and retrace
his footprints, which may often seem indistinct to his followers,
who find it easier and perhaps safer to keep their eyes on the
ground. And there is a chance that this guide could not always
retrace his steps if he tried--and why should he!--he is on the
road, conscious only that, though his star may not lie within
walking distance, he must reach it before his wagon can be
hitched to it--a Prometheus illuminating a privilege of the Gods-
-lighting a fuse that is laid towards men. Emerson reveals the
less not by an analysis of itself, but by bringing men towards
the greater. He does not try to reveal, personally, but leads,
rather, to a field where revelation is a harvest-part, where it
is known by the perceptions of the soul towards the absolute law.
He leads us towards this law, which is a realization of what
experience has suggested and philosophy hoped for. He leads us,
conscious that the aspects of truth, as he sees them, may change
as often as truth remains constant. Revelation perhaps, is but
prophecy intensified--the intensifying of its mason-work as well
as its steeple. Simple prophecy, while concerned with the past,
reveals but the future, while revelation is concerned with all
time. The power in Emerson's prophecy confuses it with--or at
least makes it seem to approach--revelation. It is prophecy with
no time element. Emerson tells, as few bards could, of what will
happen in the past, for his future is eternity and the past is a
part of that. And so like all true prophets, he is always modern,
and will grow modern with the years--for his substance is not
relative but a measure of eternal truths determined rather by a
universalist than by a partialist. He measured, as Michel Angelo
said true artists should, "with the eye and not the hand." But to
attribute modernism to his substance, though not to his
expression, is an anachronism--and as futile as calling today's
sunset modern.

As revelation and prophecy, in their common acceptance are
resolved by man, from the absolute and universal, to the relative
and personal, and as Emerson's tendency is fundamentally the
opposite, it is easier, safer and so apparently clearer, to think
of him as a poet of natural and revealed philosophy. And as such,
a prophet--but not one to be confused with those singing
soothsayers, whose pockets are filled, as are the pockets of
conservative-reaction and radical demagoguery in pulpit, street-
corner, bank and columns, with dogmatic fortune-tellings.
Emerson, as a prophet in these lower heights, was a conservative,
in that he seldom lost his head, and a radical, in that he seldom
cared whether he lost it or not. He was a born radical as are all
true conservatives. He was too much "absorbed by the absolute,"
too much of the universal to be either--though he could be both
at once. To Cotton Mather, he would have been a demagogue, to a
real demagogue he would not be understood, as it was with no self
interest that he laid his hand on reality. The nearer any subject
or an attribute of it, approaches to the perfect truth at its
base, the more does qualification become necessary. Radicalism
must always qualify itself. Emerson clarifies as he qualifies, by
plunging into, rather than "emerging from Carlyle's
soul-confusing labyrinths of speculative radicalism." The
radicalism that we hear much about today, is not Emerson's kind--
but of thinner fiber--it qualifies itself by going to _A_ "root"
and often cutting other roots in the process; it is usually
impotent as dynamite in its cause and sometimes as harmful to the
wholesome progress of all causes; it is qualified by its failure.
But the Radicalism of Emerson plunges to all roots, it becomes
greater than itself--greater than all its formal or informal
doctrines--too advanced and too conservative for any specific
result--too catholic for all the churches--for the nearer it is
to truth, the farther it is from a truth, and the more it is
qualified by its future possibilities.

Hence comes the difficulty--the futility of attempting to fasten
on Emerson any particular doctrine, philosophic, or religious
theory. Emerson wrings the neck of any law, that would become
exclusive and arrogant, whether a definite one of metaphysics or
an indefinite one of mechanics. He hacks his way up and down, as
near as he can to the absolute, the oneness of all nature both
human and spiritual, and to God's benevolence. To him the
ultimate of a conception is its vastness, and it is probably
this, rather than the "blind-spots" in his expression that makes
us incline to go with him but half-way; and then stand and build
dogmas. But if we can not follow all the way--if we do not always
clearly perceive the whole picture, we are at least free to
imagine it--he makes us feel that we are free to do so; perhaps
that is the most he asks. For he is but reaching out through and
beyond mankind, trying to see what he can of the infinite and its
immensities--throwing back to us whatever he can--but ever
conscious that he but occasionally catches a glimpse; conscious
that if he would contemplate the greater, he must wrestle with
the lesser, even though it dims an outline; that he must struggle
if he would hurl back anything--even a broken fragment for men to
examine and perchance in it find a germ of some part of truth;
conscious at times, of the futility of his effort and its
message, conscious of its vagueness, but ever hopeful for it, and
confident that its foundation, if not its medium is somewhere
near the eventual and "absolute good" the divine truth underlying
all life. If Emerson must be dubbed an optimist--then an optimist
fighting pessimism, but not wallowing in it; an optimist, who
does not study pessimism by learning to enjoy it, whose
imagination is greater than his curiosity, who seeing the sign-
post to Erebus, is strong enough to go the other way. This
strength of optimism, indeed the strength we find always
underlying his tolerance, his radicalism, his searches,
prophecies, and revelations, is heightened and made efficient by
"imagination-penetrative," a thing concerned not with the
combining but the apprehending of things. A possession, akin to
the power, Ruskin says, all great pictures have, which "depends
on the penetration of the imagination into the true nature of the
thing represented, and on the scorn of the imagination for all
shackles and fetters of mere external fact that stand in the way
of its suggestiveness"--a possession which gives the strength of
distance to his eyes, and the strength of muscle to his soul.
With this he slashes down through the loam--nor would he have us
rest there. If we would dig deep enough only to plant a doctrine,
from one part of him, he would show us the quick-silver in that
furrow. If we would creed his Compensation, there is hardly a
sentence that could not wreck it, or could not show that the idea
is no tenet of a philosophy, but a clear (though perhaps not
clearly hurled on the canvas) illustration of universal justice--
of God's perfect balances; a story of the analogy or better the
identity of polarity and duality in Nature with that in morality.
The essay is no more a doctrine than the law of gravitation is.
If we would stop and attribute too much to genius, he shows us
that "what is best written or done by genius in the world, was no
one man's work, but came by wide social labor, when a thousand
wrought like one, sharing the same impulse." If we would find in
his essay on Montaigne, a biography, we are shown a biography of
scepticism--and in reducing this to relation between "sensation
and the morals" we are shown a true Montaigne--we know the man
better perhaps by this less presentation. If we would stop and
trust heavily on the harvest of originality, he shows us that
this plant--this part of the garden--is but a relative thing. It
is dependent also on the richness that ages have put into the
soil. "Every thinker is retrospective."

Thus is Emerson always beating down through the crust towards the
first fire of life, of death and of eternity. Read where you
will, each sentence seems not to point to the next but to the
undercurrent of all. If you would label his a religion of ethics
or of morals, he shames you at the outset, "for ethics is but a
reflection of a divine personality." All the religions this world
has ever known, have been but the aftermath of the ethics of one
or another holy person; "as soon as character appears be sure
love will"; "the intuition of the moral sentiment is but the
insight of the perfection of the laws of the soul"; but these
laws cannot be catalogued.

If a versatilist, a modern Goethe, for instance, could put all of
Emerson's admonitions into practice, a constant permanence would
result,--an eternal short-circuit--a focus of equal X-rays. Even
the value or success of but one precept is dependent, like that
of a ball-game as much on the batting-eye as on the pitching-arm.
The inactivity of permanence is what Emerson will not permit. He
will not accept repose against the activity of truth. But this
almost constant resolution of every insight towards the absolute
may get a little on one's nerves, if one is at all partial-wise
to the specific; one begins to ask what is the absolute anyway,
and why try to look clear through the eternities and the
unknowable even out of the other end. Emerson's fondness for
flying to definite heights on indefinite wings, and the tendency
to over-resolve, becomes unsatisfying to the impatient, who want
results to come as they walk. Probably this is a reason that it
is occasionally said that Emerson has no vital message for the
rank and file. He has no definite message perhaps for the
literal, but messages are all vital, as much, by reason of his
indefiniteness, as in spite of it.

There is a suggestion of irony in the thought that the power of
his vague but compelling vitality, which ever sweeps us on in
spite of ourselves, might not have been his, if it had not been
for those definite religious doctrines of the old New England
theologians. For almost two centuries, Emerson's mental and
spiritual muscles had been in training for him in the moral and
intellectual contentions, a part of the religious exercise of his
forebears. A kind of higher sensitiveness seems to culminate in
him. It gives him a power of searching for a wider freedom of
soul than theirs. The religion of Puritanism was based to a great
extent, on a search for the unknowable, limited only by the dogma
of its theology--a search for a path, so that the soul could
better be conducted to the next world, while Emerson's
transcendentalism was based on the wider search for the
unknowable, unlimited in any way or by anything except the vast
bounds of innate goodness, as it might be revealed to him in any
phenomena of man, Nature, or God. This distinction, tenuous, in
spite of the definite-sounding words, we like to believe has
something peculiar to Emerson in it. We like to feel that it
superimposes the one that makes all transcendentalism but an
intellectual state, based on the theory of innate ideas, the
reality of thought and the necessity of its freedom. For the
philosophy of the religion, or whatever you will call it, of the
Concord Transcendentalists is at least, more than an intellectual
state--it has even some of the functions of the Puritan church--
it is a spiritual state in which both soul and mind can better
conduct themselves in this world, and also in the next--when the
time comes. The search of the Puritan was rather along the path
of logic, spiritualized, and the transcendentalist of reason,
spiritualized--a difference in a broad sense between objective
and subjective contemplation.

The dislike of inactivity, repose and barter, drives one to the
indefinite subjective. Emerson's lack of interest in permanence
may cause him to present a subjectivity harsher on the outside
than is essential. His very universalism occasionally seems a
limitation. Somewhere here may lie a weakness--real to some,
apparent to others--a weakness in so far as his relation becomes
less vivid--to the many; insofar as he over-disregards the
personal unit in the universal. If Genius is the most indebted,
how much does it owe to those who would, but do not easily ride
with it? If there is a weakness here is it the fault of substance
or only of manner? If of the former, there is organic error
somewhere, and Emerson will become less and less valuable to man.
But this seems impossible, at least to us. Without considering
his manner or expression here (it forms the general subject of
the second section of this paper), let us ask if Emerson's
substance needs an affinity, a supplement or even a complement or
a gangplank? And if so, of what will it be composed?

Perhaps Emerson could not have risen to his own, if it had not
been for his Unitarian training and association with the
churchmen emancipators. "Christianity is founded on, and supposes
the authority of, reason, and cannot therefore oppose it, without
subverting itself."..."Its office is to discern universal truths,
great and eternal principles...the highest power of the soul."
Thus preached Channing. Who knows but this pulpit aroused the
younger Emerson to the possibilities of intuitive reasoning in
spiritual realms? The influence of men like Channing in his fight
for the dignity of human nature, against the arbitrary
revelations that Calvinism had strapped on the church, and for
the belief in the divine in human reason, doubtless encouraged
Emerson in his unshackled search for the infinite, and gave him
premises which he later took for granted instead of carrying them
around with him. An over-interest, not an under-interest in
Christian ideal aims, may have caused him to feel that the
definite paths were well established and doing their share, and
that for some to reach the same infinite ends, more paths might
be opened--paths which would in themselves, and in a more
transcendent way, partake of the spiritual nature of the land in
quest,--another expression of God's Kingdom in Man. Would you
have the indefinite paths ALWAYS supplemented by the shadow of
the definite one of a first influence?

A characteristic of rebellion, is that its results are often
deepest, when the rebel breaks not from the worst to the
greatest, but from the great to the greater. The youth of the
rebel increases this characteristic. The innate rebellious spirit
in young men is active and buoyant. They could rebel against and
improve the millennium. This excess of enthusiasm at the
inception of a movement, causes loss of perspective; a natural
tendency to undervalue the great in that which is being taken as
a base of departure. A "youthful sedition" of Emerson was his
withdrawal from the communion, perhaps, the most socialistic
doctrine (or rather symbol) of the church--a "commune" above
property or class.

Picking up an essay on religion of a rather remarkable-minded
boy--perhaps with a touch of genius--written when he was still in
college, and so serving as a good illustration in point--we
read--"Every thinking man knows that the church is dead." But
every thinking man knows that the church-part of the church
always has been dead--that part seen by candle-light, not Christ-
light. Enthusiasm is restless and hasn't time to see that if the
church holds itself as nothing but the symbol of the greater
light it is life itself--as a symbol of a symbol it is dead. Many
of the sincerest followers of Christ never heard of Him. It is
the better influence of an institution that arouses in the deep
and earnest souls a feeling of rebellion to make its aims more
certain. It is their very sincerity that causes these seekers for
a freer vision to strike down for more fundamental, universal,
and perfect truths, but with such feverish enthusiasm, that they
appear to overthink themselves--a subconscious way of going
Godward perhaps. The rebel of the twentieth century says: "Let us
discard God, immortality, miracle--but be not untrue to
ourselves." Here he, no doubt, in a sincere and exalted moment,
confuses God with a name. He apparently feels that there is a
separable difference between natural and revealed religion. He
mistakes the powers behind them, to be fundamentally separate. In
the excessive keenness of his search, he forgets that "being true
to ourselves" IS God, that the faintest thought of immortality IS
God, and that God is "miracle." Over-enthusiasm keeps one from
letting a common experience of a day translate what is stirring
the soul. The same inspiring force that arouses the young rebel,
brings later in life a kind of "experience-afterglow," a
realization that the soul cannot discard or limit anything. Would
you have the youthful enthusiasm of rebellion, which Emerson
carried beyond his youth always supplemented by the shadow of

Perhaps it is not the narrow minded alone that have no interest
in anything, but in its relation to their personality. Is the
Christian Religion, to which Emerson owes embryo-ideals, anything
but the revelation of God in a personality--a revelation so that
the narrow mind could become opened? But the tendency to over-
personalize personality may also have suggested to Emerson the
necessity for more universal, and impersonal paths, though they
be indefinite of outline and vague of ascent. Could you journey,
with equal benefit, if they were less so? Would you have the
universal always supplemented by the shadow of the personal? If
this view is accepted, and we doubt that it can be by the
majority, Emerson's substance could well bear a supplement,
perhaps an affinity. Something that will support that which some
conceive he does not offer. Something that will help answer Alton
Locke's question: "What has Emerson for the working-man?" and
questions of others who look for the gang-plank before the ship
comes in sight. Something that will supply the definite banister
to the infinite, which it is said he keeps invisible. Something
that will point a crossroad from "his personal" to "his nature."
Something that may be in Thoreau or Wordsworth, or in another
poet whose songs "breathe of a new morning of a higher life
though a definite beauty in Nature"--or something that will show
the birth of his ideal and hold out a background of revealed
religion, as a perspective to his transcendent religion--a
counterpoise in his rebellion--which we feel Channing or Dr.
Bushnell, or other saints known and unknown might supply.

If the arc must be completed--if there are those who would have
the great, dim outlines of Emerson fulfilled, it is fortunate
that there are Bushnells, and Wordsworths, to whom they may
appeal--to say nothing of the Vedas, the Bible, or their own
souls. But such possibilities and conceptions, the deeper they
are received, the more they seem to reduce their need. Emerson's
Circle may be a better whole, without its complement. Perhaps his
"unsatiable demand for unity, the need to recognize one nature in
all variety of objects," would have been impaired, if something
should make it simpler for men to find the identity they at first
want in his substance. "Draw if thou canst the mystic line
severing rightly his from thine, which is human, which divine."
Whatever means one would use to personalize Emerson's natural
revelation, whether by a vision or a board walk, the vastness of
his aims and the dignity of his tolerance would doubtless cause
him to accept or at least try to accept, and use "magically as a
part of his fortune." He would modestly say, perhaps, "that the
world is enlarged for him, not by finding new objects, but by
more affinities, and potencies than those he already has." But,
indeed, is not enough manifestation already there? Is not the
asking that it be made more manifest forgetting that "we are not
strong by our power to penetrate, but by our relatedness?" Will
more signs create a greater sympathy? Is not our weak suggestion
needed only for those content with their own hopelessness?

Others may lead others to him, but he finds his problem in making
"gladness hope and fortitude flow from his page," rather than in
arranging that our hearts be there to receive it. The first is
his duty--the last ours!


A devotion to an end tends to undervalue the means. A power of
revelation may make one more concerned about his perceptions of
the soul's nature than the way of their disclosure. Emerson is
more interested in what he perceives than in his expression of
it. He is a creator whose intensity is consumed more with the
substance of his creation than with the manner by which he shows
it to others. Like Petrarch he seems more a discoverer of Beauty
than an imparter of it. But these discoveries, these devotions to
aims, these struggles toward the absolute, do not these in
themselves, impart something, if not all, of their own unity and
coherence--which is not received, as such, at first, nor is
foremost in their expression. It must be remembered that "truth"
was what Emerson was after--not strength of outline, or even
beauty except in so far as they might reveal themselves,
naturally, in his explorations towards the infinite. To think
hard and deeply and to say what is thought, regardless of
consequences, may produce a first impression, either of great
translucence, or of great muddiness, but in the latter there may
be hidden possibilities. Some accuse Brahms' orchestration of
being muddy. This may be a good name for a first impression of
it. But if it should seem less so, he might not be saying what he
thought. The mud may be a form of sincerity which demands that
the heart be translated, rather than handed around through the
pit. A clearer scoring might have lowered the thought. Carlyle
told Emerson that some of his paragraphs didn't cohere. Emerson
wrote by sentences or phrases, rather than by logical sequence.
His underlying plan of work seems based on the large unity of a
series of particular aspects of a subject, rather than on the
continuity of its expression. As thoughts surge to his mind, he
fills the heavens with them, crowds them in, if necessary, but
seldom arranges them, along the ground first. Among class-room
excuses for Emerson's imperfect coherence and lack of unity, is
one that remembers that his essays were made from lecture notes.
His habit, often in lecturing, was to compile his ideas as they
came to him on a general subject, in scattered notes, and when on
the platform, to trust to the mood of the occasion, to assemble
them. This seems a specious explanation, though true to fact.
Vagueness, is at times, an indication of nearness to a perfect
truth. The definite glory of Bernard of Cluny's Celestial City,
is more beautiful than true--probably. Orderly reason does not
always have to be a visible part of all great things. Logic may
possibly require that unity means something ascending in self-
evident relation to the parts and to the whole, with no ellipsis
in the ascent. But reason may permit, even demand an ellipsis,
and genius may not need the self-evident part. In fact, these
parts may be the "blind-spots" in the progress of unity. They may
be filled with little but repetition. "Nature loves analogy and
hates repetition." Botany reveals evolution not permanence. An
apparent confusion if lived with long enough may become orderly.
Emerson was not writing for lazy minds, though one of the keenest
of his academic friends said that, he (Emerson) could not explain
many of his own pages. But why should he!--he explained them when
he discovered them--the moment before he spoke or wrote them. A
rare experience of a moment at daybreak, when something in nature
seems to reveal all consciousness, cannot be explained at noon.
Yet it is a part of the day's unity. At evening, nature is
absorbed by another experience. She dislikes to explain as much
as to repeat. It is conceivable, that what is unified form to the
author, or composer, may of necessity be formless to his
audience. A home-run will cause more unity in the grand stand
than in the season's batting average. If a composer once starts
to compromise, his work will begin to drag on HIM. Before the end
is reached, his inspiration has all gone up in sounds pleasing to
his audience, ugly to him--sacrificed for the first acoustic--an
opaque clarity, a picture painted for its hanging. Easy unity,
like easy virtue, is easier to describe, when judged from its
lapses than from its constancy. When the infidel admits God is
great, he means only: "I am lazy--it is easier to talk than
live." Ruskin also says: "Suppose I like the finite curves best,
who shall say I'm right or wrong? No one. It is simply a question
of experience." You may not be able to experience a symphony,
even after twenty performances. Initial coherence today may be
dullness tomorrow probably because formal or outward unity
depends so much on repetition, sequences, antitheses, paragraphs
with inductions and summaries. Macaulay had that kind of unity.
Can you read him today? Emerson rather goes out and shouts: "I'm
thinking of the sun's glory today and I'll let his light shine
through me. I'll say any damn thing that this inspires me with."
Perhaps there are flashes of light, still in cipher, kept there
by unity, the code of which the world has not yet discovered. The
unity of one sentence inspires the unity of the whole--though its
physique is as ragged as the Dolomites.

Intense lights--vague shadows--great pillars in a horizon are
difficult things to nail signboards to. Emerson's outward-inward
qualities make him hard to classify, but easy for some. There are
many who like to say that he--even all the Concord men--are
intellectuals. Perhaps--but intellectuals who wear their brains
nearer the heart than some of their critics. It is as dangerous
to determine a characteristic by manner as by mood. Emerson is a
pure intellectual to those who prefer to take him as literally as
they can. There are reformers, and in "the form" lies their
interest, who prefer to stand on the plain, and then insist they
see from the summit. Indolent legs supply the strength of eye for
their inspiration. The intellect is never a whole. It is where
the soul finds things. It is often the only track to the over-
values. It appears a whole--but never becomes one even in the
stock exchange, or the convent, or the laboratory. In the
cleverest criminal, it is but a way to a low ideal. It can never
discard the other part of its duality--the soul or the void where
the soul ought to be. So why classify a quality always so
relative that it is more an agency than substance; a quality that
disappears when classified. "The life of the All must stream
through us to make the man and the moment great." A sailor with a
precious cargo doesn't analyze the water. Because Emerson had
generations of Calvinistic sermons in his blood, some
cataloguers, would localize or provincialize him, with the
sternness of the old Puritan mind. They make him THAT, hold him
THERE. They lean heavily on what they find of the above influence
in him. They won't follow the rivers in his thought and the play
of his soul. And their cousin cataloguers put him in another
pigeon-hole. They label him "ascetic." They translate his outward
serenity into an impression of severity. But truth keeps one from
being hysterical. Is a demagogue a friend of the people because
he will lie to them to make them cry and raise false hopes? A
search for perfect truths throws out a beauty more spiritual than
sensuous. A sombre dignity of style is often confused by under-
imagination and by surface-sentiment, with austerity. If
Emerson's manner is not always beautiful in accordance with
accepted standards, why not accept a few other standards? He is
an ascetic, in that he refuses to compromise content with manner.
But a real ascetic is an extremist who has but one height. Thus
may come the confusion, of one who says that Emerson carries him
high, but then leaves him always at THAT height--no higher--a
confusion, mistaking a latent exultation for an ascetic reserve.
The rules of Thorough Bass can be applied to his scale of flight
no more than they can to the planetary system. Jadassohn, if
Emerson were literally a composer, could no more analyze his
harmony than a guide-to-Boston could. A microscope might show
that he uses chords of the 9th, 1lth, or the 99th, but a lens far
different tells us they are used with different aims from those
of Debussy. Emerson is definite in that his art is based on
something stronger than the amusing or at its best the beguiling
of a few mortals. If he uses a sensuous chord, it is not for
sensual ears. His harmonies may float, if the wind blows in that
direction, through a voluptuous atmosphere, but he has not
Debussy's fondness for trying to blow a sensuous atmosphere from
his own voluptuous cheeks. And so he is an ascetic! There is a
distance between jowl and soul--and it is not measured by the
fraction of an inch between Concord and Paris. On the other hand,
if one thinks that his harmony contains no dramatic chords,
because no theatrical sound is heard, let him listen to the
finale of "Success," or of "Spiritual Laws," or to some of the
poems, "Brahma" or "Sursum Corda," for example. Of a truth his
Codas often seem to crystallize in a dramatic, though serene and
sustained way, the truths of his subject--they become more active
and intense, but quieter and deeper.

Then there comes along another set of cataloguers. They put him
down as a "classicist," or a romanticist, or an eclectic. Because
a prophet is a child of romanticism--because revelation is
classic, because eclecticism quotes from eclectic Hindu
Philosophy, a more sympathetic cataloguer may say, that Emerson
inspires courage of the quieter kind and delight of the higher

The same well-bound school teacher who told the boys that Thoreau
was a naturalist because he didn't like to work, puts down
Emerson as a "classic," and Hawthorne as a "romantic." A loud
voice made this doubly TRUE and SURE to be on the examination
paper. But this teacher of "truth AND dogma" apparently forgot
that there is no such thing as "classicism or romanticism." One
has but to go to the various definitions of these to know that.
If you go to a classic definition you know what a true classic
is, and similarly a "true romantic." But if you go to both, you
have an algebraic formula, x = x, a cancellation, an apercu, and
hence satisfying; if you go to all definitions you have another
formula x > x, a destruction, another apercu, and hence
satisfying. Professor Beers goes to the dictionary (you wouldn't
think a college professor would be as reckless as that). And so
he can say that "romantic" is "pertaining to the style of the
Christian and popular literature of the Middle Ages," a Roman
Catholic mode of salvation (not this definition but having a
definition). And so Prof. B. can say that Walter Scott is a
romanticist (and Billy Phelps a classic--sometimes). But for our
part Dick Croker is a classic and job a romanticist. Another
professor, Babbitt by name, links up Romanticism with Rousseau,
and charges against it many of man's troubles. He somehow likes
to mix it up with sin. He throws saucers at it, but in a
scholarly, interesting, sincere, and accurate way. He uncovers a
deformed foot, gives it a name, from which we are allowed to
infer that the covered foot is healthy and named classicism. But
no Christian Scientist can prove that Christ never had a stomach-
ache. The Architecture of Humanism [Footnote: Geoffrey Scott
(Constable & Co.)] tells us that "romanticism consists of...a
poetic sensibility towards the remote, as such." But is Plato a
classic or towards the remote? Is Classicism a poor relation of
time--not of man? Is a thing classic or romantic because it is or
is not passed by that biologic--that indescribable stream-of-
change going on in all life? Let us settle the point for "good,"
and say that a thing is classic if it is thought of in terms of
the past and romantic if thought of in terms of the future--and a
thing thought of in terms of the present is--well, that is
impossible! Hence, we allow ourselves to say, that Emerson is
neither a classic or romantic but both--and both not only at
different times in one essay, but at the same time in one
sentence--in one word. And must we admit it, so is everyone. If
you don't believe it, there must be some true definition you
haven't seen. Chopin shows a few things that Bach forgot--but he
is not eclectic, they say. Brahms shows many things that Bach did
remember, so he is an eclectic, they say. Leoncavallo writes
pretty verses and Palestrina is a priest, and Confucius inspires
Scriabin. A choice is freedom. Natural selection is but one of
Nature's tunes. "All melodious poets shall be hoarse as street
ballads, when once the penetrating keynote of nature and spirit
is sounded--the earth-beat, sea-beat, heart-beat, which make the
tune to which the sun rolls, and the globule of blood and the sap
of the trees."

An intuitive sense of values, tends to make Emerson use social,
political, and even economic phenomena, as means of expression,
as the accidental notes in his scale--rather than as ends, even
lesser ends. In the realization that they are essential parts of
the greater values, he does not confuse them with each other. He
remains undisturbed except in rare instances, when the lower
parts invade and seek to displace the higher. He was not afraid
to say that "there are laws which should not be too well obeyed."
To him, slavery was not a social or a political or an economic
question, nor even one of morals or of ethics, but one of
universal spiritual freedom only. It mattered little what party,
or what platform, or what law of commerce governed men. Was man
governing himself? Social error and virtue were but relative.
This habit of not being hindered by using, but still going beyond
the great truths of living, to the greater truths of life gave
force to his influence over the materialists. Thus he seems to us
more a regenerator than a reformer--more an interpreter of life's
reflexes than of life's facts, perhaps. Here he appears greater
than Voltaire or Rousseau and helped, perhaps, by the centrality
of his conceptions, he could arouse the deeper spiritual and
moral emotions, without causing his listeners to distort their
physical ones. To prove that mind is over matter, he doesn't
place matter over mind. He is not like the man who, because he
couldn't afford both, gave up metaphysics for an automobile, and
when he ran over a man blamed metaphysics. He would not have us
get over-excited about physical disturbance but have it accepted
as a part of any progress in culture, moral, spiritual or
aesthetic. If a poet retires to the mountain-side, to avoid the
vulgar unculture of men, and their physical disturbance, so that
he may better catch a nobler theme for his symphony, Emerson
tells him that "man's culture can spare nothing, wants all
material, converts all impediments into instruments, all enemies
into power." The latest product of man's culture--the aeroplane,
then sails o'er the mountain and instead of an inspiration--a
spray of tobacco-juice falls on the poet. "Calm yourself, Poet!"
says Emerson, "culture will convert furies into muses and hells
into benefit. This wouldn't have befallen you if it hadn't been
for the latest transcendent product of the genius of culture" (we
won't say what kind), a consummation of the dreams of poets, from
David to Tennyson. Material progress is but a means of
expression. Realize that man's coarseness has its future and will
also be refined in the gradual uprise. Turning the world upside
down may be one of its lesser incidents. It is the cause, seldom
the effect that interests Emerson. He can help the cause--the
effect must help itself. He might have said to those who talk
knowingly about the cause of war--or of the last war, and who
would trace it down through long vistas of cosmic, political,
moral evolution and what not--he might say that the cause of it
was as simple as that of any dogfight--the "hog-mind" of the
minority against the universal mind, the majority. The un-courage
of the former fears to believe in the innate goodness of mankind.
The cause is always the same, the effect different by chance; it
is as easy for a hog, even a stupid one, to step on a box of
matches under a tenement with a thousand souls, as under an empty
bird-house. The many kindly burn up for the few; for the minority
is selfish and the majority generous. The minority has ruled the
world for physical reasons. The physical reasons are being
removed by this "converting culture." Webster will not much
longer have to grope for the mind of his constituency. The
majority--the people--will need no intermediary. Governments will
pass from the representative to the direct. The hog-mind is the
principal thing that is making this transition slow. The biggest
prop to the hog-mind is pride--pride in property and the power
property gives. Ruskin backs this up--"it is at the bottom of all
great mistakes; other passions do occasional good, but whenever
pride puts in its word...it is all over with the artist." The
hog-mind and its handmaidens in disorder, superficial brightness,
fundamental dullness, then cowardice and suspicion--all a part of
the minority (the non-people) the antithesis of everything called
soul, spirit, Christianity, truth, freedom--will give way more
and more to the great primal truths--that there is more good than
evil, that God is on the side of the majority (the people)--that
he is not enthusiastic about the minority (the non-people)--that
he has made men greater than man, that he has made the universal
mind and the over-soul greater and a part of the individual mind
and soul--that he has made the Divine a part of all.

Again, if a picture in economics is before him, Emerson plunges
down to the things that ARE because they are BETTER than they
are. If there is a row, which there usually is, between the ebb
and flood tide, in the material ocean--for example, between the
theory of the present order of competition, and of attractive and
associated labor, he would sympathize with Ricardo, perhaps, that
labor is the measure of value, but "embrace, as do generous
minds, the proposition of labor shared by all." He would go
deeper than political economics, strain out the self-factor from
both theories, and make the measure of each pretty much the same,
so that the natural (the majority) would win, but not to the
disadvantage of the minority (the artificial) because this has
disappeared--it is of the majority. John Stuart Mill's political
economy is losing value because it was written by a mind more "a
banker's" than a "poet's." The poet knows that there is no such
thing as the perpetual law of supply and demand, perhaps not of
demand and supply--or of the wage-fund, or price-level, or
increments earned or unearned; and that the existence of personal
or public property may not prove the existence of God.

Emerson seems to use the great definite interests of humanity to
express the greater, indefinite, spiritual values--to fulfill
what he can in his realms of revelation. Thus, it seems that so
close a relation exists between his content and expression, his
substance and manner, that if he were more definite in the latter
he would lose power in the former,--perhaps some of those
occasional flashes would have been unexpressed--flashes that have
gone down through the world and will flame on through the ages--
flashes that approach as near the Divine as Beethoven in his most
inspired moments--flashes of transcendent beauty, of such
universal import, that they may bring, of a sudden, some intimate
personal experience, and produce the same indescribable effect
that comes in rare instances, to men, from some common sensation.
In the early morning of a Memorial Day, a boy is awakened by
martial music--a village band is marching down the street, and as
the strains of Reeves' majestic Seventh Regiment March come
nearer and nearer, he seems of a sudden translated--a moment of
vivid power comes, a consciousness of material nobility, an
exultant something gleaming with the possibilities of this life,
an assurance that nothing is impossible, and that the whole world
lies at his feet. But as the band turns the corner, at the
soldiers' monument, and the march steps of the Grand Army become
fainter and fainter, the boy's vision slowly vanishes--his
"world" becomes less and less probable--but the experience ever
lies within him in its reality. Later in life, the same boy hears
the Sabbath morning bell ringing out from the white steeple at
the "Center," and as it draws him to it, through the autumn
fields of sumac and asters, a Gospel hymn of simple devotion
comes out to him--"There's a wideness in God's mercy"--an instant
suggestion of that Memorial Day morning comes--but the moment is
of deeper import--there is no personal exultation--no intimate
world vision--no magnified personal hope--and in their place a
profound sense of a spiritual truth,--a sin within reach of
forgiveness--and as the hymn voices die away, there lies at his
feet--not the world, but the figure of the Saviour--he sees an
unfathomable courage, an immortality for the lowest, the vastness
in humility, the kindness of the human heart, man's noblest
strength, and he knows that God is nothing--nothing but love!
Whence cometh the wonder of a moment? From sources we know not.
But we do know that from obscurity, and from this higher Orpheus
come measures of sphere melodies [note: Paraphrased from a
passage in Sartor Resartus.] flowing in wild, native tones,
ravaging the souls of men, flowing now with thousand-fold
accompaniments and rich symphonies through all our hearts;
modulating and divinely leading them.


What is character? In how far does it sustain the soul or the
soul it? Is it a part of the soul? And then--what is the soul?
Plato knows but cannot tell us. Every new-born man knows, but no
one tells us. "Nature will not be disposed of easily. No power of
genius has ever yet had the smallest success in explaining
existence. The perfect enigma remains." As every blind man sees
the sun, so character may be the part of the soul we, the blind,
can see, and then have the right to imagine that the soul is each
man's share of God, and character the muscle which tries to
reveal its mysteries--a kind of its first visible radiance--the
right to know that it is the voice which is always calling the
pragmatist a fool.

At any rate, it can be said that Emerson's character has much to
do with his power upon us. Men who have known nothing of his
life, have borne witness to this. It is directly at the root of
his substance, and affects his manner only indirectly. It gives
the sincerity to the constant spiritual hopefulness we are always
conscious of, and which carries with it often, even when the
expression is somber, a note of exultation in the victories of
"the innate virtues" of man. And it is this, perhaps, that makes
us feel his courage--not a self-courage, but a sympathetic one--
courageous even to tenderness. It is the open courage of a kind
heart, of not forcing opinions--a thing much needed when the
cowardly, underhanded courage of the fanatic would FORCE opinion.
It is the courage of believing in freedom, per se, rather than of
trying to force everyone to SEE that you believe in it--the
courage of the willingness to be reformed, rather than of
reforming--the courage teaching that sacrifice is bravery, and
force, fear. The courage of righteous indignation, of stammering
eloquence, of spiritual insight, a courage ever contracting or
unfolding a philosophy as it grows--a courage that would make the
impossible possible. Oliver Wendell Holmes says that Emerson
attempted the impossible in the Over-Soul--"an overflow of
spiritual imagination." But he (Emerson) accomplished the
impossible in attempting it, and still leaving it impossible. A
courageous struggle to satisfy, as Thoreau says, "Hunger rather
than the palate"--the hunger of a lifetime sometimes by one meal.
His essay on the Pre-Soul (which he did not write) treats of that
part of the over-soul's influence on unborn ages, and attempts
the impossible only when it stops attempting it.

Like all courageous souls, the higher Emerson soars, the more
lowly he becomes. "Do you think the porter and the cook have no
experiences, no wonders for you? Everyone knows as much as the
Savant." To some, the way to be humble is to admonish the humble,
not learn from them. Carlyle would have Emerson teach by more
definite signs, rather than interpret his revelations, or shall
we say preach? Admitting all the inspiration and help that Sartor
Resartus has given in spite of its vaudeville and tragic stages,
to many young men getting under way in the life of tailor or
king, we believe it can be said (but very broadly said) that
Emerson, either in the first or second series of essays, taken as
a whole, gives, it seems to us, greater inspiration, partly
because his manner is less didactic, less personally suggestive,
perhaps less clearly or obviously human than Carlyle's. How
direct this inspiration is is a matter of personal viewpoint,
temperament, perhaps inheritance. Augustine Birrell says he does
not feel it--and he seems not to even indirectly. Apparently "a
non-sequacious author" can't inspire him, for Emerson seems to
him a "little thin and vague." Is Emerson or the English climate
to blame for this? He, Birrell, says a really great author
dissipates all fears as to his staying power. (Though fears for
our staying-power, not Emerson's, is what we would like
dissipated.) Besides, around a really great author, there are no
fears to dissipate. "A wise author never allows his reader's mind
to be at large," but Emerson is not a wise author. His essay on
Prudence has nothing to do with prudence, for to be wise and
prudent he must put explanation first, and let his substance
dissolve because of it. "How carefully," says Birrell again, "a
really great author like Dr. Newman, or M. Renan, explains to you
what he is going to do, and how he is going to do it." Personally
we like the chance of having a hand in the "explaining." We
prefer to look at flowers, but not through a botany, for it seems
that if we look at them alone, we see a beauty of Nature's
poetry, a direct gift from the Divine, and if we look at botany
alone, we see the beauty of Nature's intellect, a direct gift of
the Divine--if we look at both together, we see nothing.

Thus it seems that Carlyle and Birrell would have it that courage
and humility have something to do with "explanation"--and that it
is not "a respect for all"--a faith in the power of "innate
virtue" to perceive by "relativeness rather than penetration"--
that causes Emerson to withhold explanation to a greater degree
than many writers. Carlyle asks for more utility, and Birrell for
more inspiration. But we like to believe that it is the height of
Emerson's character, evidenced especially in his courage and
humility that shades its quality, rather than that its virtue is
less--that it is his height that will make him more and more
valuable and more and more within the reach of all--whether it be
by utility, inspiration, or other needs of the human soul.

Cannot some of the most valuable kinds of utility and inspiration
come from humility in its highest and purest forms? For is not
the truest kind of humility a kind of glorified or transcendent
democracy--the practicing it rather than the talking it--the not-
wanting to level all finite things, but the being willing to be
leveled towards the infinite? Until humility produces that frame
of mind and spirit in the artist can his audience gain the
greatest kind of utility and inspiration, which might be quite
invisible at first? Emerson realizes the value of "the many,"--
that the law of averages has a divine source. He recognizes the
various life-values in reality--not by reason of their closeness
or remoteness, but because he sympathizes with men who live them,
and the majority do. "The private store of reason is not great--
would that there were a public store for man," cries Pascal, but
there is, says Emerson, it is the universal mind, an institution
congenital with the common or over-soul. Pascal is discouraged,
for he lets himself be influenced by surface political and
religious history which shows the struggle of the group, led by
an individual, rather than that of the individual led by himself
--a struggle as much privately caused as privately led. The main-
path of all social progress has been spiritual rather than
intellectual in character, but the many bypaths of individual-
materialism, though never obliterating the highway, have dimmed
its outlines and caused travelers to confuse the colors along the
road. A more natural way of freeing the congestion in the
benefits of material progress will make it less difficult for the
majority to recognize the true relation between the important
spiritual and religious values and the less important
intellectual and economic values. As the action of the intellect
and universal mind becomes more and more identical, the clearer
will the relation of all values become. But for physical reasons,
the group has had to depend upon the individual as leaders, and
the leaders with few exceptions restrained the universal mind--
they trusted to the "private store," but now, thanks to the
lessons of evolution, which Nature has been teaching men since
and before the days of Socrates, the public store of reason is
gradually taking the place of the once-needed leader. From the
Chaldean tablet to the wireless message this public store has
been wonderfully opened. The results of these lessons, the
possibilities they are offering for ever coordinating the mind of
humanity, the culmination of this age-instruction, are seen today
in many ways. Labor Federation, Suffrage Extension, are two
instances that come to mind among the many. In these
manifestations, by reason of tradition, or the bad-habit part of
tradition, the hog-mind of the few (the minority), comes in play.
The possessors of this are called leaders, but even these "thick-
skins" are beginning to see that the MOVEMENT is the leader, and
that they are only clerks. Broadly speaking, the effects
evidenced in the political side of history have so much of the
physical because the causes have been so much of the physical. As
a result the leaders for the most part have been under-average
men, with skins thick, wits slick, and hands quick with under-
values, otherwise they would not have become leaders. But the day
of leaders, as such, is gradually closing--the people are
beginning to lead themselves--the public store of reason is
slowly being opened--the common universal mind and the common
over-soul is slowly but inevitably coming into its own. "Let a
man believe in God, not in names and places and persons. Let the
great soul incarnated in some poor...sad and simple Joan, go out
to service and sweep chimneys and scrub floors...its effulgent
day beams cannot be muffled..." and then "to sweep and scrub will
instantly appear supreme and beautiful actions...and all people
will get brooms and mops." Perhaps, if all of Emerson--his works
and his life--were to be swept away, and nothing of him but the
record of the following incident remained to men--the influence
of his soul would still be great. A working woman after coming
from one of his lectures said: "I love to go to hear Emerson, not
because I understand him, but because he looks as though he
thought everybody was as good as he was." Is it not the courage--
the spiritual hopefulness in his humility that makes this story
possible and true? Is it not this trait in his character that
sets him above all creeds--that gives him inspired belief in the
common mind and soul? Is it not this courageous universalism that
gives conviction to his prophecy and that makes his symphonies of
revelation begin and end with nothing but the strength and beauty
of innate goodness in man, in Nature and in God, the greatest and
most inspiring theme of Concord Transcendental Philosophy, as we
hear it.

And it is from such a world-compelling theme and from such
vantage ground, that Emerson rises to almost perfect freedom of
action, of thought and of soul, in any direction and to any
height. A vantage ground, somewhat vaster than Schelling's
conception of transcendental philosophy--"a philosophy of Nature
become subjective." In Concord it includes the objective and
becomes subjective to nothing but freedom and the absolute law.
It is this underlying courage of the purest humility that gives
Emerson that outward aspect of serenity which is felt to so great
an extent in much of his work, especially in his codas and
perorations. And within this poised strength, we are conscious of
that "original authentic fire" which Emerson missed in Shelley--
we are conscious of something that is not dispassionate,
something that is at times almost turbulent--a kind of furious
calm lying deeply in the conviction of the eventual triumph of
the soul and its union with God!

Let us place the transcendent Emerson where he, himself, places
Milton, in Wordsworth's apostrophe: "Pure as the naked heavens,
majestic, free, so didst thou travel on life's common way in
cheerful Godliness."

The Godliness of spiritual courage and hopefulness--these fathers
of faith rise to a glorified peace in the depth of his greater
perorations. There is an "oracle" at the beginning of the Fifth
Symphony--in those four notes lies one of Beethoven's greatest
messages. We would place its translation above the relentlessness
of fate knocking at the door, above the greater human-message of
destiny, and strive to bring it towards the spiritual message of
Emerson's revelations--even to the "common heart" of Concord--the
Soul of humanity knocking at the door of the Divine mysteries,
radiant in the faith that it will be opened--and the human become
the Divine!


The substance of Hawthorne is so dripping wet with the
supernatural, the phantasmal, the mystical--so surcharged with
adventures, from the deeper picturesque to the illusive
fantastic, one unconsciously finds oneself thinking of him as a
poet of greater imaginative impulse than Emerson or Thoreau. He
was not a greater poet possibly than they--but a greater artist.
Not only the character of his substance, but the care in his
manner throws his workmanship, in contrast to theirs, into a kind
of bas-relief. Like Poe he quite naturally and unconsciously
reaches out over his subject to his reader. His mesmerism seeks
to mesmerize us--beyond Zenobia's sister. But he s too great an
artist to show his hand "in getting his audience," as Poe and
Tschaikowsky occasionally do. His intellectual muscles are too
strong to let him become over-influenced, as Ravel and Stravinsky
seem to be by the morbidly fascinating--a kind of false beauty
obtained by artistic monotony. However, we cannot but feel that
he would weave his spell over us--as would the Grimms and Aesop.
We feel as much under magic as the "Enchanted Frog." This is part
of the artist's business. The effect is a part of his art-effort
in its inception. Emerson's substance and even his manner has
little to do with a designed effect--his thunderbolts or delicate
fragments are flashed out regardless--they may knock us down or
just spatter us--it matters little to him--but Hawthorne is more
considerate; that is, he is more artistic, as men say.

Hawthorne may be more noticeably indigenous or may have more
local color, perhaps more national color than his Concord
contemporaries. But the work of anyone who is somewhat more
interested in psychology than in transcendental philosophy, will
weave itself around individuals and their personalities. If the
same anyone happens to live in Salem, his work is likely to be
colored by the Salem wharves and Salem witches. If the same
anyone happens to live in the "Old Manse" near the Concord Battle
Bridge, he is likely "of a rainy day to betake himself to the
huge garret," the secrets of which he wonders at, "but is too
reverent of their dust and cobwebs to disturb." He is likely to
"bow below the shriveled canvas of an old (Puritan) clergyman in
wig and gown--the parish priest of a century ago--a friend of
Whitefield." He is likely to come under the spell of this
reverend Ghost who haunts the "Manse" and as it rains and darkens
and the sky glooms through the dusty attic windows, he is likely
"to muse deeply and wonderingly upon the humiliating fact that
the works of man's intellect decay like those of his hands"...
"that thought grows moldy," and as the garret is in
Massachusetts, the "thought" and the "mold" are likely to be
quite native. When the same anyone puts his poetry into novels
rather than essays, he is likely to have more to say about the
life around him--about the inherited mystery of the town--than a
poet of philosophy is.

In Hawthorne's usual vicinity, the atmosphere was charged with
the somber errors and romance of eighteenth century New England,-
-ascetic or noble New England as you like. A novel, of necessity,
nails an art-effort down to some definite part or parts of the
earth's surface--the novelist's wagon can't always be hitched to
a star. To say that Hawthorne was more deeply interested than
some of the other Concord writers--Emerson, for example--in the
idealism peculiar to his native land (in so far as such idealism
of a country can be conceived of as separate from the political)
would be as unreasoning as to hold that he was more interested in
social progress than Thoreau, because he was in the consular
service and Thoreau was in no one's service--or that the War
Governor of Massachusetts was a greater patriot than Wendell
Phillips, who was ashamed of all political parties. Hawthorne's
art was true and typically American--as is the art of all men
living in America who believe in freedom of thought and who live
wholesome lives to prove it, whatever their means of expression.

Any comprehensive conception of Hawthorne, either in words or
music, must have for its basic theme something that has to do
with the influence of sin upon the conscience--something more
than the Puritan conscience, but something which is permeated by
it. In this relation he is wont to use what Hazlitt calls the
"moral power of imagination." Hawthorne would try to spiritualize
a guilty conscience. He would sing of the relentlessness of
guilt, the inheritance of guilt, the shadow of guilt darkening
innocent posterity. All of its sins and morbid horrors, its
specters, its phantasmas, and even its hellish hopelessness play
around his pages, and vanishing between the lines are the less
guilty Elves of the Concord Elms, which Thoreau and Old Man
Alcott may have felt, but knew not as intimately as Hawthorne.
There is often a pervading melancholy about Hawthorne, as Faguet
says of de Musset "without posture, without noise but
penetrating." There is at times the mysticism and serenity of the
ocean, which Jules Michelet sees in "its horizon rather than in
its waters." There is a sensitiveness to supernatural sound
waves. Hawthorne feels the mysteries and tries to paint them
rather than explain them--and here, some may say that he is wiser
in a more practical way and so more artistic than Emerson.
Perhaps so, but no greater in the deeper ranges and profound
mysteries of the interrelated worlds of human and spiritual life.

This fundamental part of Hawthorne is not attempted in our music
(the 2nd movement of the series) which is but an "extended
fragment" trying to suggest some of his wilder, fantastical
adventures into the half-childlike, half-fairylike phantasmal
realms. It may have something to do with the children's
excitement on that "frosty Berkshire morning, and the frost
imagery on the enchanted hall window" or something to do with
"Feathertop," the "Scarecrow," and his "Looking Glass" and the
little demons dancing around his pipe bowl; or something to do
with the old hymn tune that haunts the church and sings only to
those in the churchyard, to protect them from secular noises, as
when the circus parade comes down Main Street; or something to do
with the concert at the Stamford camp meeting, or the "Slave's
Shuffle"; or something to do with the Concord he-nymph, or the
"Seven Vagabonds," or "Circe's Palace," or something else in the
wonderbook--not something that happens, but the way something
happens; or something to do with the "Celestial Railroad," or
"Phoebe's Garden," or something personal, which tries to be
"national" suddenly at twilight, and universal suddenly at
midnight; or something about the ghost of a man who never lived,
or about something that never will happen, or something else that
is not.

IV--"The Alcotts"

If the dictagraph had been perfected in Bronson Alcott's time, he
might now be a great writer. As it is, he goes down as Concord's
greatest talker. "Great expecter," says Thoreau; "great feller,"
says Sam Staples, "for talkin' big...but his daughters is the
gals though--always DOIN' somethin'." Old Man Alcott, however,
was usually "doin' somethin'" within. An internal grandiloquence
made him melodious without; an exuberant, irrepressible,
visionary absorbed with philosophy AS such; to him it was a kind
of transcendental business, the profits of which supported his
inner man rather than his family. Apparently his deep interest in
spiritual physics, rather than metaphysics, gave a kind of
hypnotic mellifluous effect to his voice when he sang his
oracles; a manner something of a cross between an inside pompous
self-assertion and an outside serious benevolence. But he was
sincere and kindly intentioned in his eagerness to extend what he
could of the better influence of the philosophic world as he saw
it. In fact, there is a strong didactic streak in both father and
daughter. Louisa May seldom misses a chance to bring out the
moral of a homely virtue. The power of repetition was to them a
natural means of illustration. It is said that the elder Alcott,
while teaching school, would frequently whip himself when the
scholars misbehaved, to show that the Divine Teacher-God-was
pained when his children of the earth were bad. Quite often the
boy next to the bad boy was punished, to show how sin involved
the guiltless. And Miss Alcott is fond of working her story
around, so that she can better rub in a moral precept--and the
moral sometimes browbeats the story. But with all the elder
Alcott's vehement, impracticable, visionary qualities, there was
a sturdiness and a courage--at least, we like to think so. A
Yankee boy who would cheerfully travel in those days, when
distances were long and unmotored, as far from Connecticut as the
Carolinas, earning his way by peddling, laying down his pack to
teach school when opportunity offered, must possess a basic
sturdiness. This was apparently not very evident when he got to
preaching his idealism. An incident in Alcott's life helps
confirm a theory--not a popular one--that men accustomed to
wander around in the visionary unknown are the quickest and
strongest when occasion requires ready action of the lower
virtues. It often appears that a contemplative mind is more
capable of action than an actively objective one. Dr. Emerson
says: "It is good to know that it has been recorded of Alcott,
the benign idealist, that when the Rev. Thomas Wentworth
Higginson, heading the rush on the U.S. Court House in Boston, to
rescue a fugitive slave, looked back for his following at the
court-room door, only the apostolic philosopher was there cane in
hand." So it seems that his idealism had some substantial
virtues, even if he couldn't make a living.

The daughter does not accept the father as a prototype--she seems
to have but few of her father's qualities "in female." She
supported the family and at the same time enriched the lives of a
large part of young America, starting off many little minds with
wholesome thoughts and many little hearts with wholesome
emotions. She leaves memory-word-pictures of healthy, New England
childhood days,--pictures which are turned to with affection by
middle-aged children,--pictures, that bear a sentiment, a leaven,
that middle-aged America needs nowadays more than we care to

Concord village, itself, reminds one of that common virtue lying
at the height and root of all the Concord divinities. As one
walks down the broad-arched street, passing the white house of
Emerson--ascetic guard of a former prophetic beauty--he comes
presently beneath the old elms overspreading the Alcott house. It
seems to stand as a kind of homely but beautiful witness of
Concord's common virtue--it seems to bear a consciousness that
its past is LIVING, that the "mosses of the Old Manse" and the
hickories of Walden are not far away. Here is the home of the
"Marches"--all pervaded with the trials and happiness of the
family and telling, in a simple way, the story of "the richness
of not having." Within the house, on every side, lie remembrances
of what imagination can do for the better amusement of fortunate
children who have to do for themselves-much-needed lessons in
these days of automatic, ready-made, easy entertainment which
deaden rather than stimulate the creative faculty. And there sits
the little old spinet-piano Sophia Thoreau gave to the Alcott
children, on which Beth played the old Scotch airs, and played at
the Fifth Symphony.

There is a commonplace beauty about "Orchard House"--a kind of
spiritual sturdiness underlying its quaint picturesqueness--a
kind of common triad of the New England homestead, whose
overtones tell us that there must have been something aesthetic
fibered in the Puritan severity--the self-sacrificing part of the
ideal--a value that seems to stir a deeper feeling, a stronger
sense of being nearer some perfect truth than a Gothic cathedral
or an Etruscan villa. All around you, under the Concord sky,
there still floats the influence of that human faith melody,
transcendent and sentimental enough for the enthusiast or the
cynic respectively, reflecting an innate hope--a common interest
in common things and common men--a tune the Concord bards are
ever playing, while they pound away at the immensities with a
Beethovenlike sublimity, and with, may we say, a vehemence and
perseverance--for that part of greatness is not so difficult to

We dare not attempt to follow the philosophic raptures of Bronson
Alcott--unless you will assume that his apotheosis will show how
"practical" his vision in this world would be in the next. And so
we won't try to reconcile the music sketch of the Alcotts with
much besides the memory of that home under the elms--the Scotch
songs and the family hymns that were sung at the end of each
day--though there may be an attempt to catch something of that
common sentiment (which we have tried to suggest above)-a
strength of hope that never gives way to despair--a conviction in
the power of the common soul which, when all is said and done,
may be as typical as any theme of Concord and its


Thoreau was a great musician, not because he played the flute but
because he did not have to go to Boston to hear "the Symphony."
The rhythm of his prose, were there nothing else, would determine
his value as a composer. He was divinely conscious of the
enthusiasm of Nature, the emotion of her rhythms and the harmony
of her solitude. In this consciousness he sang of the submission
to Nature, the religion of contemplation, and the freedom of
simplicity--a philosophy distinguishing between the complexity of
Nature which teaches freedom, and the complexity of materialism
which teaches slavery. In music, in poetry, in all art, the truth
as one sees it must be given in terms which bear some proportion
to the inspiration. In their greatest moments the inspiration of
both Beethoven and Thoreau express profound truths and deep
sentiment, but the intimate passion of it, the storm and stress
of it, affected Beethoven in such a way that he could not but be
ever showing it and Thoreau that he could not easily expose it.
They were equally imbued with it, but with different results. A
difference in temperament had something to do with this, together
with a difference in the quality of expression between the two
arts. "Who that has heard a strain of music feared lest he would
speak extravagantly forever," says Thoreau. Perhaps music is the
art of speaking extravagantly. Herbert Spencer says that some
men, as for instance Mozart, are so peculiarly sensitive to
emotion...that music is to them but a continuation not only of
the expression but of the actual emotion, though the theory of
some more modern thinkers in the philosophy of art doesn't always
bear this out. However, there is no doubt that in its nature
music is predominantly subjective and tends to subjective
expression, and poetry more objective tending to objective
expression. Hence the poet when his muse calls for a deeper
feeling must invert this order, and he may be reluctant to do so
as these depths often call for an intimate expression which the
physical looks of the words may repel. They tend to reveal the
nakedness of his soul rather than its warmth. It is not a matter
of the relative value of the aspiration, or a difference between
subconsciousness and consciousness but a difference in the arts
themselves; for example, a composer may not shrink from having
the public hear his "love letter in tones," while a poet may feel
sensitive about having everyone read his "letter in words." When
the object of the love is mankind the sensitiveness is changed
only in degree.

But the message of Thoreau, though his fervency may be inconstant
and his human appeal not always direct, is, both in thought and
spirit, as universal as that of any man who ever wrote or sang--
as universal as it is nontemporaneous--as universal as it is free
from the measure of history, as "solitude is free from the
measure of the miles of space that intervene between man and his
fellows." In spite of the fact that Henry James (who knows almost
everything) says that "Thoreau is more than provincial--that he
is parochial," let us repeat that Henry Thoreau, in respect to
thought, sentiment, imagination, and soul, in respect to every
element except that of place of physical being--a thing that
means so much to some--is as universal as any personality in
literature. That he said upon being shown a specimen grass from
Iceland that the same species could be found in Concord is
evidence of his universality, not of his parochialism. He was so
universal that he did not need to travel around the world to
PROVE it. "I have more of God, they more of the road." "It is not
worth while to go around the world to count the cats in
Zanzibar." With Marcus Aurelius, if he had seen the present he
had seen all, from eternity and all time forever.

Thoreau's susceptibility to natural sounds was probably greater
than that of many practical musicians. True, this appeal is
mainly through the sensational element which Herbert Spencer
thinks the predominant beauty of music. Thoreau seems able to
weave from this source some perfect transcendental symphonies.
Strains from the Orient get the best of some of the modern French
music but not of Thoreau. He seems more interested in than
influenced by Oriental philosophy. He admires its ways of
resignation and self-contemplation but he doesn't contemplate
himself in the same way. He often quotes from the Eastern
scriptures passages which were they his own he would probably
omit, i.e., the Vedas say "all intelligences awake with the
morning." This seems unworthy of "accompanying the undulations of
celestial music" found on this same page, in which an "ode to
morning" is sung--"the awakening to newly acquired forces and
aspirations from within to a higher life than we fell asleep
from...for all memorable events transpire in the morning time and
in the morning atmosphere." Thus it is not the whole tone scale
of the Orient but the scale of a Walden morning--"music in single
strains," as Emerson says, which inspired many of the polyphonies
and harmonies that come to us through his poetry. Who can be
forever melancholy "with Aeolian music like this"?

This is but one of many ways in which Thoreau looked to Nature
for his greatest inspirations. In her he found an analogy to the
Fundamental of Transcendentalism. The "innate goodness" of Nature
is or can be a moral influence; Mother Nature, if man will but
let her, will keep him straight--straight spiritually and so
morally and even mentally. If he will take her as a companion,
and teacher, and not as a duty or a creed, she will give him
greater thrills and teach him greater truths than man can give or
teach--she will reveal mysteries that mankind has long concealed.
It was the soul of Nature not natural history that Thoreau was
after. A naturalist's mind is one predominantly scientific, more
interested in the relation of a flower to other flowers than its
relation to any philosophy or anyone's philosophy. A transcendent
love of Nature and writing "Rhus glabra" after sumac doesn't
necessarily make a naturalist. It would seem that although
thorough in observation (not very thorough according to Mr.
Burroughs) and with a keen perception of the specific, a
naturalist--inherently--was exactly what Thoreau was not. He
seems rather to let Nature put him under her microscope than to
hold her under his. He was too fond of Nature to practice
vivisection upon her. He would have found that painful, "for was
he not a part with her?" But he had this trait of a naturalist,
which is usually foreign to poets, even great ones; he observed
acutely even things that did not particularly interest him--a
useful natural gift rather than a virtue.

The study of Nature may tend to make one dogmatic, but the love
of Nature surely does not. Thoreau no more than Emerson could be
said to have compounded doctrines. His thinking was too broad for
that. If Thoreau's was a religion of Nature, as some say,-and by
that they mean that through Nature's influence man is brought to
a deeper contemplation, to a more spiritual self-scrutiny, and
thus closer to God,-it had apparently no definite doctrines. Some
of his theories regarding natural and social phenomena and his
experiments in the art of living are certainly not doctrinal in
form, and if they are in substance it didn't disturb Thoreau and
it needn't us..."In proportion as he simplifies his life the laws
of the universe will appear less complex and solitude will not be
solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have
built castles in the air your work need not be lost; that is
where they should be, now put the foundations under
them."..."Then we will love with the license of a higher order of
beings." Is that a doctrine? Perhaps. At any rate, between the
lines of some such passage as this lie some of the fountain heads
that water the spiritual fields of his philosophy and the seeds
from which they are sown (if indeed his whole philosophy is but
one spiritual garden). His experiments, social and economic, are
a part of its cultivation and for the harvest--and its
transmutation, he trusts to moments of inspiration--"only what is
thought, said, and done at a certain rare coincidence is good."

Thoreau's experiment at Walden was, broadly speaking, one of
these moments. It stands out in the casual and popular opinion as
a kind of adventure--harmless and amusing to some, significant
and important to others; but its significance lies in the fact
that in trying to practice an ideal he prepared his mind so that
it could better bring others "into the Walden-state-of-mind." He
did not ask for a literal approval, or in fact for any approval.
"I would not stand between any man and his genius." He would have
no one adopt his manner of life, unless in doing so he adopts his
own--besides, by that time "I may have found a better one." But
if he preached hard he practiced harder what he preached--harder
than most men. Throughout Walden a text that he is always
pounding out is "Time." Time for inside work out-of-doors;
preferably out-of-doors, "though you perhaps may have some
pleasant, thrilling, glorious hours, even in a poor house."
Wherever the place--time there must be. Time to show the
unnecessariness of necessities which clog up time. Time to
contemplate the value of man to the universe, of the universe to
man, man's excuse for being. Time FROM the demands of social
conventions. Time FROM too much labor for some, which means too
much to eat, too much to wear, too much material, too much
materialism for others. Time FROM the "hurry and waste of life."
Time FROM the "St. Vitus Dance." BUT, on the other side of the
ledger, time FOR learning that "there is no safety in stupidity
alone." Time FOR introspection. Time FOR reality. Time FOR
expansion. Time FOR practicing the art, of living the art of
living. Thoreau has been criticized for practicing his policy of
expansion by living in a vacuum--but he peopled that vacuum with
a race of beings and established a social order there, surpassing
any of the precepts in social or political history."...for he put
some things behind and passed an invisible boundary; new,
universal, and more liberal laws were around and within him, the
old laws were expanded and interpreted in a more liberal sense
and he lived with the license of a higher order"--a community in
which "God was the only President" and "Thoreau not Webster was
His Orator." It is hard to believe that Thoreau really refused to
believe that there was any other life but his own, though he
probably did think that there was not any other life besides his
own for him. Living for society may not always be best
accomplished by living WITH society. "is there any virtue in a
man's skin that you must touch it?" and the "rubbing of elbows
may not bring men's minds closer together"; or if he were talking
through a "worst seller" (magazine) that "had to put it over" he
might say, "forty thousand souls at a ball game does not,
necessarily, make baseball the highest expression of spiritual
emotion." Thoreau, however, is no cynic, either in character or
thought, though in a side glance at himself, he may have held out
to be one; a "cynic in independence," possibly because of his
rule laid down that "self-culture admits of no compromise."

It is conceivable that though some of his philosophy and a good
deal of his personality, in some of its manifestations, have
outward colors that do not seem to harmonize, the true and
intimate relations they bear each other are not affected. This
peculiarity, frequently seen in his attitude towards social-
economic problems, is perhaps more emphasized in some of his
personal outbursts. "I love my friends very much, but I find that
it is of no use to go to see them. I hate them commonly when I am
near." It is easier to see what he means than it is to forgive
him for saying it. The cause of this apparent lack of harmony
between philosophy and personality, as far as they can be
separated, may have been due to his refusal "to keep the very
delicate balance" which Mr. Van Doren in his "Critical Study of
Thoreau" says "it is necessary for a great and good man to keep
between his public and private lives, between his own personality
and the whole outside universe of personalities." Somehow one
feels that if he had kept this balance he would have lost
"hitting power." Again, it seems that something of the above
depends upon the degree of greatness or goodness. A very great
and especially a very good man has no separate private and public
life. His own personality though not identical with outside
personalities is so clear or can be so clear to them that it
appears identical, and as the world progresses towards its
inevitable perfection this appearance becomes more and more a
reality. For the same reason that all great men now agree, in
principle but not in detail, in so far as words are able to
communicate agreement, on the great fundamental truths. Someone
says: "Be specific--what great fundamentals?" Freedom over
slavery; the natural over the artificial; beauty over ugliness;
the spiritual over the material; the goodness of man; the Godness
of man; have been greater if he hadn't written plays. Some say
that a true composer will never write an opera because a truly
brave man will not take a drink to keep up his courage; which is
not the same thing as saying that Shakespeare is not the greatest
figure in all literature; in fact, it is an attempt to say that
many novels, most operas, all Shakespeares, and all brave men and
women (rum or no rum) are among the noblest blessings with which
God has endowed mankind--because, not being perfect, they are
perfect examples pointing to that perfection which nothing yet
has attained.

Thoreau's mysticism at times throws him into elusive moods--but
an elusiveness held by a thread to something concrete and
specific, for he had too much integrity of mind for any other
kind. In these moments it is easier to follow his thought than to
follow him. Indeed, if he were always easy to follow, after one
had caught up with him, one might find that it was not Thoreau.

It is, however, with no mystic rod that he strikes at
institutional life. Here again he felt the influence of the great
transcendental doctrine of "innate goodness" in human nature--a
reflection of the like in nature; a philosophic part which, by
the way, was a more direct inheritance in Thoreau than in his
brother transcendentalists. For besides what he received from a
native Unitarianism a good part must have descended to him
through his Huguenot blood from the "eighteenth-century French
philosophy." We trace a reason here for his lack of interest in
"the church." For if revealed religion is the path between God
and man's spiritual part--a kind of formal causeway--Thoreau's
highly developed spiritual life felt, apparently unconsciously,
less need of it than most men. But he might have been more
charitable towards those who do need it (and most of us do) if he
had been more conscious of his freedom. Those who look today for
the cause of a seeming deterioration in the influence of the
church may find it in a wider development of this feeling of
Thoreau's; that the need is less because there is more of the
spirit of Christianity in the world today. Another cause for his
attitude towards the church as an institution is one always too
common among "the narrow minds" to have influenced Thoreau. He
could have been more generous. He took the arc for the circle,
the exception for the rule, the solitary bad example for the many
good ones. His persistent emphasis on the value of "example" may
excuse this lower viewpoint. "The silent influence of the example
of one sincere life...has benefited society more than all the
projects devised for its salvation." He has little patience for
the unpracticing preacher. "In some countries a hunting parson is
no uncommon sight. Such a one might make a good shepherd dog but
is far from being a good shepherd." It would have been
interesting to have seen him handle the speculating parson, who
takes a good salary--more per annum than all the disciples had to
sustain their bodies during their whole lives--from a
metropolitan religious corporation for "speculating" on Sunday
about the beauty of poverty, who preaches: "Take no thought (for
your life) what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink nor yet what
ye shall put on...lay not up for yourself treasure upon
earth...take up thy cross and follow me"; who on Monday becomes a
"speculating" disciple of another god, and by questionable
investments, successful enough to get into the "press," seeks to
lay up a treasure of a million dollars for his old age, as if a
million dollars could keep such a man out of the poor-house.
Thoreau might observe that this one good example of Christian
degeneracy undoes all the acts of regeneracy of a thousand humble
five-hundred-dollar country parsons; that it out-influences the
"unconscious influence" of a dozen Dr. Bushnells if there be that
many; that the repentance of this man who did not "fall from
grace" because he never fell into it--that this unnecessary
repentance might save this man's own soul but not necessarily the
souls of the million head-line readers; that repentance would put
this preacher right with the powers that be in this world--and
the next. Thoreau might pass a remark upon this man's intimacy
with God "as if he had a monopoly of the subject"--an intimacy
that perhaps kept him from asking God exactly what his Son meant
by the "camel," the "needle"--to say nothing of the "rich man."
Thoreau might have wondered how this man NAILED DOWN the last
plank in HIS bridge to salvation, by rising to sublime heights of
patriotism, in HIS war against materialism; but would even
Thoreau be so unfeeling as to suggest to this exhorter that HIS
salvation might be clinched "if he would sacrifice his income"
(not himself) and come--in to a real Salvation Army, or that the
final triumph, the supreme happiness in casting aside this mere
$10,000 or $20,000 every year must be denied him--for was he not
captain of the ship--must he not stick to his passengers (in the
first cabin--the very first cabin)--not that the ship was sinking
but that he was...we will go no further. Even Thoreau would not
demand sacrifice for sacrifice sake--no, not even from Nature.

Property from the standpoint of its influence in checking natural
self-expansion and from the standpoint of personal and inherent
right is another institution that comes in for straight and
cross-arm jabs, now to the stomach, now to the head, but seldom
sparring for breath. For does he not say that "wherever a man
goes, men will pursue him with their dirty institutions"? The
influence of property, as he saw it, on morality or immorality
and how through this it mayor should influence "government" is
seen by the following: "I am convinced that if all men were to
live as simply as I did, then thieving and robbery would be
unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got
more than is sufficient while others have not enough--

Nec bella fuerunt,
Faginus astabat dum
Scyphus ante dapes--

You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ
punishments? Have virtue and the people will be virtuous." If
Thoreau had made the first sentence read: "If all men were like
me and were to live as simply," etc., everyone would agree with
him. We may wonder here how he would account for some of the
degenerate types we are told about in some of our backwoods and
mountain regions. Possibly by assuming that they are an instance
of perversion of the species. That the little civilizing their
forbears experienced rendered these people more susceptible to
the physical than to the spiritual influence of nature; in other
words; if they had been purer naturists, as the Aztecs for
example, they would have been purer men. Instead of turning to
any theory of ours or of Thoreau for the true explanation of this
condition--which is a kind of pseudo-naturalism--for its true
diagnosis and permanent cure, are we not far more certain to find
it in the radiant look of humility, love, and hope in the strong
faces of those inspired souls who are devoting their lives with
no little sacrifice to these outcasts of civilization and nature.
In truth, may not mankind find the solution of its eternal
problem--find it after and beyond the last, most perfect system
of wealth distribution which science can ever devise--after and
beyond the last sublime echo of the greatest socialistic
symphonies--after and beyond every transcendent thought and
expression in the simple example of these Christ-inspired souls--
be they Pagan, Gentile, Jew, or angel.

However, underlying the practical or impractical suggestions
implied in the quotation above, which is from the last paragraph
of Thoreau's Village, is the same transcendental theme of "innate
goodness." For this reason there must be no limitation except
that which will free mankind from limitation, and from a
perversion of this "innate" possession: And "property" may be one
of the causes of this perversion--property in the two relations
cited above. It is conceivable that Thoreau, to the consternation
of the richest members of the Bolsheviki and Bourgeois, would
propose a policy of liberation, a policy of a limited personal
property right, on the ground that congestion of personal
property tends to limit the progress of the soul (as well as the
progress of the stomach)--letting the economic noise thereupon
take care of itself--for dissonances are becoming beautiful--and
do not the same waters that roar in a storm take care of the
eventual calm? That this limit of property be determined not by
the VOICE of the majority but by the BRAIN of the majority under
a government limited to no national boundaries. "The government
of the world I live in is not framed in after-dinner
conversation"--around a table in a capital city, for there is no
capital--a government of principles not parties; of a few
fundamental truths and not of many political expediencies. A
government conducted by virtuous leaders, for it will be led by
all, for all are virtuous, as then their "innate virtue" will no
more be perverted by unnatural institutions. This will not be a
millennium but a practical and possible application of uncommon
common sense. For is it not sense, common or otherwise, for
Nature to want to hand back the earth to those to whom it
belongs--that is, to those who have to live on it? Is it not
sense, that the average brains like the average stomachs will act
rightly if they have an equal amount of the right kind of food to
act upon and universal education is on the way with the right
kind of food? Is it not sense then that all grown men and women
(for all are necessary to work out the divine "law of averages")
shall have a direct not an indirect say about the things that go
on in this world?

Some of these attitudes, ungenerous or radical, generous or
conservative (as you will), towards institutions dear to many,
have no doubt given impressions unfavorable to Thoreau's thought
and personality. One hears him called, by some who ought to know
what they say and some who ought not, a crabbed, cold-hearted,
sour-faced Yankee--a kind of a visionary sore-head--a cross-
grained, egotistic recluse,--even non-hearted. But it is easier
to make a statement than prove a reputation. Thoreau may be some
of these things to those who make no distinction between these
qualities and the manner which often comes as a kind of by-
product of an intense devotion of a principle or ideal. He was
rude and unfriendly at times but shyness probably had something
to do with that. In spite of a certain self-possession he was
diffident in most company, but, though he may have been subject
to those spells when words do not rise and the mind seems wrapped
in a kind of dull cloth which everyone dumbly stares at, instead
of looking through--he would easily get off a rejoinder upon
occasion. When a party of visitors came to Walden and some one
asked Thoreau if he found it lonely there, he replied: "Only by
your help." A remark characteristic, true, rude, if not witty.
The writer remembers hearing a schoolteacher in English
literature dismiss Thoreau (and a half hour lesson, in which time
all of Walden,--its surface--was sailed over) by saying that this
author (he called everyone "author" from Solomon down to Dr.
Parkhurst) "was a kind of a crank who styled himself a hermit-
naturalist and who idled about the woods because he didn't want
to work." Some such stuff is a common conception, though not as
common as it used to be. If this teacher had had more brains, it
would have been a lie. The word idled is the hopeless part of
this criticism, or rather of this uncritical remark. To ask this
kind of a man, who plays all the "choice gems from celebrated
composers" literally, always literally, and always with the loud
pedal, who plays all hymns, wrong notes, right notes, games,
people, and jokes literally, and with the loud pedal, who will
die literally and with the loud pedal--to ask this man to smile
even faintly at Thoreau's humor is like casting a pearl before a
coal baron. Emerson implies that there is one thing a genius must
have to be a genius and that is "mother wit."..."Doctor Johnson,
Milton, Chaucer, and Burns had it. Aunt Mary Moody Emerson has it
and can write scrap letters. Who has it need never write anything
but scraps. Henry Thoreau has it." His humor though a part of
this wit is not always as spontaneous, for it is sometimes pun
shape (so is Charles Lamb's)--but it is nevertheless a kind that
can serenely transport us and which we can enjoy without
disturbing our neighbors. If there are those who think him cold-
hearted and with but little human sympathy, let them read his
letters to Emerson's little daughter, or hear Dr. Emerson tell
about the Thoreau home life and the stories of his boyhood--the
ministrations to a runaway slave; or let them ask old Sam
Staples, the Concord sheriff about him. That he "was fond of a
few intimate friends, but cared not one fig for people in the
mass," is a statement made in a school history and which is
superficially true. He cared too much for the masses--too much to
let his personality be "massed"; too much to be unable to realize
the futility of wearing his heart on his sleeve but not of
wearing his path to the shore of "Walden" for future masses to
walk over and perchance find the way to themselves. Some near-
satirists are fond of telling us that Thoreau came so close to
Nature that she killed him before he had discovered her whole
secret. They remind us that he died with consumption but forget
that he lived with consumption. And without using much charity,
this can be made to excuse many of his irascible and uncongenial
moods. You to whom that gaunt face seems forbidding--look into
the eyes! If he seems "dry and priggish" to you, Mr. Stevenson,
"with little of that large unconscious geniality of the world's
heroes," follow him some spring morning to Baker Farm, as he
"rambles through pine groves...like temples, or like fleets at
sea, full-rigged, with wavy boughs and rippling with light so
soft and green and shady that the Druids would have forsaken
their oaks to worship in them." Follow him to "the cedar wood
beyond Flint's Pond, where the trees covered with hoary blue
berries, spiring higher and higher, are fit to stand before
Valhalla." Follow him, but not too closely, for you may see
little, if you do--"as he walks in so pure and bright a light
gilding its withered grass and leaves so softly and serenely
bright that he thinks he has never bathed in such a golden
flood." Follow him as "he saunters towards the holy land till one
day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever it has done,
perchance shine into your minds and hearts and light up your
whole lives with a great awakening, light as warm and serene and
golden as on a bankside in autumn." Follow him through the golden
flood to the shore of that "holy land," where he lies dying as
men say--dying as bravely as he lived. You may be near when his
stern old aunt in the duty of her Puritan conscience asks him:
"Have you made your peace with God"? and you may see his kindly
smile as he replies, "I did not know that we had ever quarreled."
Moments like these reflect more nobility and equanimity perhaps
than geniality--qualities, however, more serviceable to world's

The personal trait that one who has affection for Thoreau may
find worst is a combative streak, in which he too often takes
refuge. "An obstinate elusiveness," almost a "contrary
cussedness," as if he would say, which he didn't: "If a truth
about something is not as I think it ought to be, I'll make it
what I think, and it WILL be the truth--but if you agree with me,
then I begin to think it may not be the truth." The causes of
these unpleasant colors (rather than characteristics) are too
easily attributed to a lack of human sympathy or to the
assumption that they are at least symbols of that lack instead of
to a supersensitiveness, magnified at times by ill health and at
times by a subconsciousness of the futility of actually living
out his ideals in this life. It has been said that his brave
hopes were unrealized anywhere in his career--but it is certain
that they started to be realized on or about May 6, 1862, and we
doubt if 1920 will end their fulfillment or his career. But there
were many in Concord who knew that within their village there was
a tree of wondrous growth, the shadow of which--alas, too
frequently--was the only part they were allowed to touch. Emerson
was one of these. He was not only deeply conscious of Thoreau's
rare gifts but in the Woodland Notes pays a tribute to a side of
his friend that many others missed. Emerson knew that Thoreau's
sensibilities too often veiled his nobilities, that a self-
cultivated stoicism ever fortified with sarcasm, none the less
securely because it seemed voluntary, covered a warmth of
feeling. "His great heart, him a hermit made." A breadth of heart

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