Ralph Waldo Emerson eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 304 pages of information about Ralph Waldo Emerson.
—­“As soon as every man is apprised of the Divine Presence within his own mind,—­is apprised that the perfect law of duty corresponds with the laws of chemistry, of vegetation, of astronomy, as face to face in a glass; that the basis of duty, the order of society, the power of character, the wealth of culture, the perfection of taste, all draw their essence from this moral sentiment; then we have a religion that exalts, that commands all the social and all the private action.”

Nothing could be more wholesome in a meeting of creed-killers than the suggestive remark,—­

—­“What I expected to find here was, some practical suggestions by which we were to reanimate and reorganize for ourselves the true Church, the pure worship.  Pure doctrine always bears fruit in pure benefits.  It is only by good works, it is only on the basis of active duty, that worship finds expression.—­The interests that grow out of a meeting like this, should bind us with new strength to the old eternal duties.”
In a later address before the same association, Emerson says:—­ “I object, of course, to the claim of miraculous dispensation,—­certainly not to the doctrine of Christianity.—­If you are childish and exhibit your saint as a worker of wonders, a thaumaturgist, I am repelled.  That claim takes his teachings out of nature, and permits official and arbitrary senses to be grafted on the teachings.”

The “Progress of Culture” was delivered as a Phi Beta Kappa oration just thirty years after his first address before the same society.  It is very instructive to compare the two orations written at the interval of a whole generation:  one in 1837, at the age of thirty-four; the other in 1867, at the age of sixty-four.  Both are hopeful, but the second is more sanguine than the first.  He recounts what he considers the recent gains of the reforming movement:—­

“Observe the marked ethical quality of the innovations urged or adopted.  The new claim of woman to a political status is itself an honorable testimony to the civilization which has given her a civil status new in history.  Now that by the increased humanity of law she controls her property, she inevitably takes the next step to her share in power.”

He enumerates many other gains, from the war or from the growth of intelligence,—­“All, one may say, in a high degree revolutionary, teaching nations the taking of governments into their own hands, and superseding kings.”

He repeats some of his fundamental formulae.

    “The foundation of culture, as of character, is at last the moral
    sentiment.

    “Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any
    material force, that thoughts rule the world.

    “Periodicity, reaction, are laws of mind as well as of matter.”

And most encouraging it is to read in 1884 what was written in 1867,—­especially in the view of future possibilities.  “Bad kings and governors help us, if only they are bad enough.” Non tali auxilio, we exclaim, with a shudder of remembrance, and are very glad to read these concluding words:  “I read the promise of better times and of greater men.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.