The school of which Mr. Emerson had the charge was an old-fashioned country “Academy.” Mr. Emerson was probably studying for the ministry while teaching there. Judge Abbott remembers the impression he made on the boys. He was very grave, quiet, and very impressive in his appearance. There was something engaging, almost fascinating, about him; he was never harsh or severe, always perfectly self-controlled, never punished except with words, but exercised complete command over the boys. His old pupil recalls the stately, measured way in which, for some offence the little boy had committed, he turned on him, saying only these two words: “Oh, sad!” That was enough, for he had the faculty of making the boys love him. One of his modes of instruction was to give the boys a piece of reading to carry home with them,—from some book like Plutarch’s Lives,—and the next day to examine them and find out how much they retained from their reading. Judge Abbott remembers a peculiar look in his eyes, as if he saw something beyond what seemed to be in the field of vision. The whole impression left on this pupil’s mind was such as no other teacher had ever produced upon him.
Mr. Emerson also kept a school for a short time at Cambridge, and among his pupils was Mr. John Holmes. His impressions seem to be very much like those of Judge Abbott.
My brother speaks of Mr. Emerson thus:—
“Calm, as not doubting the virtue residing in his sceptre. Rather stern in his very infrequent rebukes. Not inclined to win boys by a surface amiability, but kindly in explanation or advice. Every inch a king in his dominion. Looking back, he seems to me rather like a captive philosopher set to tending flocks; resigned to his destiny, but not amused with its incongruities. He once recommended the use of rhyme as a cohesive for historical items.”
In 1823, two years after graduating, Emerson began studying for the ministry. He studied under the direction of Dr. Charming, attending some of the lectures in the Divinity School at Cambridge, though not enrolled as one of its regular students.
The teachings of that day were such as would now be called “old-fashioned Unitarianism.” But no creed can be held to be a finality. From Edwards to Mayhew, from Mayhew to Channing, from Channing to Emerson, the passage is like that which leads from the highest lock of a canal to the ocean level. It is impossible for human nature to remain permanently shut up in the highest lock of Calvinism. If the gates are not opened, the mere leakage of belief or unbelief will before long fill the next compartment, and the freight of doctrine finds itself on the lower level of Arminianism, or Pelagianism, or even subsides to Arianism. From this level to that of Unitarianism the outlet is freer, and the subsidence more rapid. And from Unitarianism to Christian Theism, the passage is largely open for such as cannot accept the evidence of the supernatural in the history of the church.