Ralph Waldo Emerson eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 403 pages of information about Ralph Waldo Emerson.

    “Franklin said, ’Mankind are very superficial and dastardly:  they
    begin upon a thing, but, meeting with a difficulty, they fly from it
    discouraged; but they have the means if they would employ them.’”

“Shall we judge a country by the majority, or by the minority?  By the minority, surely.”  Here we have the doctrine of the “saving remnant,” which we have since recognized in Mr. Matthew Arnold’s well-remembered lecture.  Our republican philosopher is clearly enough outspoken on this matter of the vox populi.  “Leave this hypocritical prating about the masses.  Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled.  I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out of them.”

Pere Bouhours asked a question about the Germans which found its answer in due time.  After reading what Emerson says about “the masses,” one is tempted to ask whether a philosopher can ever have “a constituency” and be elected to Congress?  Certainly the essay just quoted from would not make a very promising campaign document.  Perhaps there was no great necessity for Emerson’s returning to the subject of “Beauty,” to which he had devoted a chapter of “Nature,” and of which he had so often discoursed incidentally.  But he says so many things worth reading in the Essay thus entitled in the “Conduct of Life” that we need not trouble ourselves about repetitions.  The Essay is satirical and poetical rather than philosophical.  Satirical when he speaks of science with something of that old feeling betrayed by his brother Charles when he was writing in 1828; poetical in the flight of imagination with which he enlivens, entertains, stimulates, inspires,—­or as some may prefer to say,—­amuses his listeners and readers.

The reader must decide which of these effects is produced by the following passage:—­

“The feat of the imagination is in showing the convertibility of everything into every other thing.  Facts which had never before left their stark common sense suddenly figure as Eleusinian mysteries.  My boots and chair and candlestick are fairies in disguise, meteors, and constellations.  All the facts in Nature are nouns of the intellect, and make the grammar of the eternal language.  Every word has a double, treble, or centuple use and meaning.  What! has my stove and pepper-pot a false bottom?  I cry you mercy, good shoe-box!  I did not know you were a jewel-case.  Chaff and dust begin to sparkle, and are clothed about with immortality.  And there is a joy in perceiving the representative or symbolic character of a fact, which no base fact or event can ever give.  There are no days so memorable as those which vibrated to some stroke of the imagination.”

One is reminded of various things in reading this sentence.  An ounce of alcohol, or a few whiffs from an opium-pipe, may easily make a day memorable

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Ralph Waldo Emerson from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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