Ralph Waldo Emerson eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 403 pages of information about Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“I think all sound minds rest on a certain preliminary conviction, namely, that if it be best that conscious personal life shall continue, it will continue; if not best, then it will not; and we, if we saw the whole, should of course see that it was better so.”

This is laying the table for a Barmecide feast of nonentity, with the possibility of a real banquet to be provided for us.  But he continues:—­

    “Schiller said, ‘What is so universal as death must be benefit.’”

He tells us what Michael Angelo said, how Plutarch felt, how Montesquieu thought about the question, and then glances off from it to the terror of the child at the thought of life without end, to the story of the two skeptical statesmen whose unsatisfied inquiry through a long course of years he holds to be a better affirmative evidence than their failure to find a confirmation was negative.  He argues from our delight in permanence, from the delicate contrivances and adjustments of created things, that the contriver cannot be forever hidden, and says at last plainly:—­

    “Everything is prospective, and man is to live hereafter.  That the
    world is for his education is the only sane solution of the enigma.”

But turn over a few pages and we may read:—­

“I confess that everything connected with our personality fails.  Nature never spares the individual; we are always balked of a complete success; no prosperity is promised to our self-esteem.  We have our indemnity only in the moral and intellectual reality to which we aspire.  That is immortal, and we only through that.  The soul stipulates for no private good.  That which is private I see not to be good.  ‘If truth live, I live; if justice live, I live,’ said one of the old saints, ’and these by any man’s suffering are enlarged and enthroned.’”

Once more we get a dissolving view of Emerson’s creed, if such a word applies to a statement like the following:—­

—­“I mean that I am a better believer, and all serious souls are better believers in the immortality than we can give grounds for.  The real evidence is too subtle, or is higher than we can write down in propositions, and therefore Wordsworth’s ‘Ode’ is the best modern essay on the subject.”

Wordsworth’s “Ode” is a noble and beautiful dream; is it anything more?  The reader who would finish this Essay, which I suspect to belong to an early period of Emerson’s development, must be prepared to plunge into mysticism and lose himself at last in an Oriental apologue.  The eschatology which rests upon an English poem and an Indian fable belongs to the realm of reverie and of imagination rather than the domain of reason.

On the 19th of April, 1875, the hundredth anniversary of the “Fight at the Bridge,” Emerson delivered a short Address at the unveiling of the statue of “The Minute-Man,” erected at the place of the conflict, to commemorate the event.  This is the last Address he ever wrote, though he delivered one or more after this date.  From the manuscript which lies before me I extract a single passage:—­

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Ralph Waldo Emerson from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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