Essays and Reviews
by Terry Whalen
of Emerson's Essays*
is perhaps no book that one would more gladly see put
within the reach of a larger circle of readers than
Emerson's Essays. This is that work of a master
mind which Matthew Arnold considered the most important
contribution to English literature in the century; and
it was one of his wise flashes of insight to set the
Concord poet and sage beside Marcus Aurelius, not as
a master of styles, nor as an expounder of any new and
consistent philosophy, but as "the friend and aider
of those who would live in the spirit." It is here
that Emerson has, and must ever have, his just station
in the enduring republic of letters. With the Roman
Emperor, with Epictetus, and the almost Christian Seneca,
America has given one supreme and spotless name to be
forever associated and beloved by multitudes of cheerless
toilers. Yet he differs from all of these. The burden
of time is not so heavy on him. He does not feel the
weight of sin, nor the grime of toiling generations.
He is of the morning, the healthy bringer of fresh light
and air. To this age, dispirited and jaded as it is
by too long-continued and curious thought, he has brought
back joy from nature. Berry and bird-note served him
well enough in all his needs. It is thus his particular
glory that he offered solace which is in the reach of
all. He taught us to use what before lay idle all about
us, common and despised.
are not to look to him for the solution of any of the
riddles of life. He had no fixed and inter-dependent
scheme of philosophy. He himself says that if the fates
were to offer him his choice of gifts would say, "Give
me continuity." He lives by intuition, takes the
light as it comes to him. "Into every intelligence
there is a door which is never closed, through which
the Creator passes." This is the fundamental note
of Emerson's faith, so that one may say he has the first
essential quality of a poet; he speaks from within.
Logic and expediency are for all of us; we can draw
our own conclusions well enough, given the premises.
But we look for higher wisdom than this in the poet.
If he is not truly inspired, if he does not utter truths
which we feel to be "beyond the reaches of our
souls" and yet at once endorse as valid for ourselves-as
something we have long striven to formulate without
success until the coming of this seer and sayer of things-then
he is not truly a poet, but only a maker of rhymes,
a juggler and a charlatan. There are other qualities,
indeed, which go to produce admirable poetry, some of
these Emerson was without. But this first and most important
gift of insight he possessed in greater abundance and
purity than any other man that America has brought forth.
He is always sincere, and you may trust him to the end.
'Tis he who-
like a migrant angel through the world,
Wearing the benediction of a smile.
is a strange and delightful revelation prepared for
any boy or girl in the teens or the twenties who has
never turned the leaves of this book. Turn them now,
and how the old familiar sentences catch the eye and
tingle at the heart!
thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string..Life
only avails, not the having lived..It is alike your
interest and mine, and all men's; however long we have
dwelt in lies, to live in truth..
a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as
the murmer of the brook and the nestle of the corn..God
offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.
Take which you please-you can never have both.
friend, never strike sail to a fear! Come into port
greatly, or sail with God the seas. Not in vain you
live, for every passing eye is cheered and refined by
foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,
adorned by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.
With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to
do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on
the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and
tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again,
though it contradict everything you said today. 'Ah,
so you will be sure to be misunderstood.' Is it so bad
then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood
and Socrates, and every pure and wise spirit that ever
took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood."
one might go on quoting at random. For when one has
been a disciple it is hard not to be an apostle also.
How precious the early mornings used to be when these
sentences came crisp and new as if fallen from the June
sky itself, borne down the wind with clover-scent and
bird-calls. All the world looked different.
exhilaration, the confident uplift to the spirit-this
is the great boon of transcendentalism as the Concord
teacher gives it to us. There is no more to say in a
paper like this, which must be merely a finger post
by the roadside pointing to where a pot of gold lies
it is impossible not be glad that the directors of the
Riverside Press have issued this work in a new and cheaper
form, and placed it within the power of any man who
buys books at all to secure for his own modest shelves
this priceless treasure of wisdom and solace and encouragement
not of the world.
of Emerson's Essays, Progress, Dec. 14,