During three successive years, 1868, 1869, 1870, Emerson delivered a series of Lectures at Harvard University on the “Natural History of the Intellect.” These Lectures, as I am told by Dr. Emerson, cost him a great deal of labor, but I am not aware that they have been collected or reported. They will be referred to in the course of this chapter, in an extract from Prof. Thayer’s “Western Journey with Mr. Emerson.” He is there reported as saying that he cared very little for metaphysics. It is very certain that he makes hardly any use of the ordinary terms employed by metaphysicians. If he does not hold the words “subject and object” with their adjectives, in the same contempt that Mr. Ruskin shows for them, he very rarely employs either of these expressions. Once he ventures on the not me, but in the main he uses plain English handles for the few metaphysical tools he has occasion to employ.
“Society and Solitude” was published in 1870. The first Essay in the volume bears the same name as the volume itself.
In this first Essay Emerson is very fair to the antagonistic claims of solitary and social life. He recognizes the organic necessity of solitude. We are driven “as with whips into the desert.” But there is danger in this seclusion. “Now and then a man exquisitely made can live alone and must; but coop up most men and you undo them.—Here again, as so often, Nature delights to put us between extreme antagonisms, and our safety is in the skill with which we keep the diagonal line.—The conditions are met, if we keep our independence yet do not lose our sympathy.”
The Essay on “Civilization” is pleasing, putting familiar facts in a very agreeable way. The framed or stone-house in place of the cave or the camp, the building of roads, the change from war, hunting, and pasturage to agriculture, the division of labor, the skilful combinations of civil government, the diffusion of knowledge through the press, are well worn subjects which he treats agreeably, if not with special brilliancy:—
“Right position of woman in the State is another index.—Place the sexes in right relations of mutual respect, and a severe morality gives that essential charm to a woman which educates all that is delicate, poetic, and self-sacrificing; breeds courtesy and learning, conversation and wit, in her rough mate, so that I have thought a sufficient measure of civilization is the influence of good women.”
My attention was drawn to one paragraph for a reason which my reader will readily understand, and I trust look upon good-naturedly:—
“The ship, in its latest complete equipment, is an abridgment and compend of a nation’s arts: the ship steered by compass and chart, longitude reckoned by lunar observation and by chronometer, driven by steam; and in wildest sea-mountains, at vast distances from home,—
“’The pulses of her iron heart
Go beating through the storm.’”