“Of the pieces included in this volume the following, namely, those from ‘The Dial,’ ‘Character,’ ‘Plutarch,’ and the biographical sketches of Dr. Ripley, of Mr. Hoar, and of Henry Thoreau, were printed by Mr. Emerson before I took any part in the arrangement of his papers. The rest, except the sketch of Miss Mary Emerson, I got ready for his use in readings to his friends, or to a limited public. He had given up the regular practice of lecturing, but would sometimes, upon special request, read a paper that had been prepared for him from his manuscripts, in the manner described in the Preface to ’Letters and Social Aims,’—some former lecture serving as a nucleus for the new. Some of these papers he afterwards allowed to be printed; others, namely, ‘Aristocracy,’ ‘Education,’ ‘The Man of Letters,’ ‘The Scholar,’ ‘Historic Notes of Life and Letters in New England,’ ’Mary Moody Emerson,’ are now published for the first time.”
Some of these papers I have already had occasion to refer to. From several of the others I will make one or two extracts,—a difficult task, so closely are the thoughts packed together.
“I say to the table-rappers
Thou wilt not utter what thou dost not know,’
And so far will I trust thee, gentle Kate!”
“Meantime far be from me the impatience which cannot brook the supernatural, the vast; far be from me the lust of explaining away all which appeals to the imagination, and the great presentiments which haunt us. Willingly I too say Hail! to the unknown, awful powers which transcend the ken of the understanding.”
I will not quote anything from the Essay called “Aristocracy.” But let him who wishes to know what the word means to an American whose life has come from New England soil, whose ancestors have breathed New England air for many generations, read it, and he will find a new interpretation of a very old and often greatly wronged appellation.
“Perpetual Forces” is one of those prose poems,—of his earlier epoch, I have no doubt,—in which he plays with the facts of science with singular grace and freedom.
What man could speak more fitly, with more authority of “Character,” than Emerson? When he says, “If all things are taken away, I have still all things in my relation to the Eternal,” we feel that such an utterance is as natural to his pure spirit as breathing to the frame in which it was imprisoned.
We have had a glimpse of Emerson as a school-master, but behind and far above the teaching drill-master’s desk is the chair from which he speaks to us of “Education.” Compare the short and easy method of the wise man of old,—“He that spareth his rod hateth his son,” with this other, “Be the companion of his thought, the friend of his friendship, the lover of his virtue,—but no kinsman of his sin.”