At the Mermaid Inn

The Globe, Toronto: April 22, 1893


 

       I do not know whether very many people outside of New England read Emerson's poems, but, if they do not, they ought to. There are few poets who are more bracing reading. In Emerson there is the freedom, the vitality, the fertility, the inexhaustible permutation, the god-like optimism of nature herself. His mind is like the heaven itself—cool and infinite, with its stars—and it is fed from a heart like the ploughed earth, sunny and fecund, and full of perpetual chemic change. Emerson is sometimes charged with being obscure, but, in spite of his tendency to condensation, he is not really often so. His pieces are, indeed, so packed with pictures, suggestions and luminous thoughts that they must be attentively read or much will escape the grasp of the reader, simply because there are so many things. Emerson should have a special attraction for the impatient reader, or the reader who has not much time to give to his books. His work is so well adapted to piecemeal reading. One can open his books anywhere, and take up the thread of some inspiring current of thought. He was like his own bumblebee, voyaging hither and thither, in "Syrian peace, immortal leisure," collecting only the purest honey of reflection, gathering it wherever he found it, and stowing it away in separate cell upon cell, with little regard to form or the symmetry of the whole.
       Emerson was in the fullest sense a nature poet. He identified himself with nature. He was not so persistent and hardy a roamer of forest and lake as Thoreau, but his faculty of penetrating into the methods and moods of nature was as fine as his. He had, of course, the prevalent New England austerity, that quality of mind that may be likened to the cool and cloudy freshness of an early spring day, where, through the scattered clouds, golden sunbeams break with an especial gladsomeness and charm. When Emerson does yield himself in a line or two to an impulse of luxury, he is irresistible. Hear how he addresses the bumblebee:—

"When the south wind, in May days,
With a net of shining haze
Silvers the horizon wall,
And, with softness touching all,
Tints the human countenance
With a color of romance,
And infusing subtle heat
Turns the sod to violets,
Thou in sunny solitudes,
Lover of the underwoods,
The green silence doth displace
With thy mellow, breezy bass."

       Emerson's sympathy with nature is not, however, in the main that of the observer, the student or the artist; it is a sympathy of force, a cosmic sympathy. He is drawn to nature because in the energies of his own soul he is aware of a kinship to the forces of nature, and feels with an elemental joy as if it were a part of himself the eternal movement of life. His voice is like the voice of the pine, whereof he says:—

"To the open air it sings
Sweet the genesis of things,
Of tendency through endless ages,
Of star dust and star pilgrimages,
Of rounded worlds, of space and time,
Of the old flood's subsiding slime,
Of chemic matter, force and form,
Of poles and powers, cold, wet and warm;
The rushing metamorphosis
Dissolving all that fixture is,
Melts things to be to things that seem
And solid nature to a dream."
                                                                                                                L.

       The other day I was attracted by a reproduction of one of the late Paul Peel's paintings, the original of which is to hang in the art gallery at the World's fair. I am not sure what name the artist had given it, but it might naturally be called "Before the bath," as his other picture on a similar motion is called "After the bath." It represents an interior, with more than half of an ordinary bath seen beyond the edge of a screen; an old nurse is leaning over the edge of the bath coaxing two little children who are holding back mischievously. One is hiding in the angle of the screen, you can fancy her holding her breath; the other is in full view of the nurse, and the figure is drawn with every appreciation of the delight which the youngster has in teasing her old "nurse." You do not see her face, but you can tell that she is laughing. Her sister is not yet discovered in the angle of the screen and considers herself safe drawn back out of view. The whole conception is so natural and so charming that it seems to open up a new view of the uses to which the commonest domestic incidents might be put by a master, especially the incidents of child life. There is nothing in the world around which tender and human feelings gather as the every day life of children, and there is hardly an incident which, properly treated, might not serve to show some touch of character. And what an effect such poetic reproductions have upon the mature spectator! They renew in a profound way the associations of childhood, and mingle them with a regret for the disallusionment which life and a sordid experience have given. They bring a longing for the days when we were owners of something which "A man who was really a carpenter made"; for the days when our familiar habitations which seem so confined now were palaces, when it was a day's journey to the stream a stone's throw away, and when over the neat pasture fence was the world, unexplored, even unthinkable. My feelings were stirred anew with regret upon looking on Paul Peel's picture; regret that he had not lived to work out to the end that strain of tender and poetic feeling which had commenced to make him famous.
                                                                                                                S.