I was surprised to find by one of the old Catalogues that Emerson roomed during a part of his College course with a young man whom I well remember, J.G.K. Gourdin. The two Gourdins, Robert and John Gaillard Keith, were dashing young fellows as I recollect them, belonging to Charleston, South Carolina. The “Southerners” were the reigning College elegans of that time, the merveilleux, the mirliflores, of their day. Their swallow-tail coats tapered to an arrow-point angle, and the prints of their little delicate calfskin boots in the snow were objects of great admiration to the village boys of the period. I cannot help wondering what brought Emerson and the showy, fascinating John Gourdin together as room-mates.
1823-1828. AET. 20-25.
Extract from a Letter to a Classmate.—School-Teaching.—Study of Divinity.—“Approbated” to Preach.—Visit to the South.—Preaching in Various Places.
We get a few brief glimpses of Emerson during the years following his graduation. He writes in 1823 to a classmate who had gone from Harvard to Andover:—
“I am delighted to hear there is such a profound studying of German and Hebrew, Parkhurst and Jahn, and such other names as the memory aches to think of, on foot at Andover. Meantime, Unitarianism will not hide her honors; as many hard names are taken, and as much theological mischief is planned, at Cambridge as at Andover. By the time this generation gets upon the stage, if the controversy will not have ceased, it will run such a tide that we shall hardly he able to speak to one another, and there will be a Guelf and Ghibelline quarrel, which cannot tell where the differences lie.”
“You can form no conception how much one grovelling in the city needs the excitement and impulse of literary example. The sight of broad vellum-bound quartos, the very mention of Greek and German names, the glimpse of a dusty, tugging scholar, will wake you up to emulation for a month.”
After leaving College, and while studying Divinity, Emerson employed a part of his time in giving instruction in several places successively.
Emerson’s older brother William was teaching in Boston, and Ralph Waldo, after graduating, joined him in that occupation. In the year 1825 or 1826, he taught school also in Chelmsford, a town of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, a part of which helped to constitute the city of Lowell. One of his pupils in that school, the Honorable Josiah Gardiner Abbott, has favored me with the following account of his recollections:—