Personality and Habits of Life.—His Commission and Errand.—As a Lecturer.—His Use of Authorities.—Resemblance to Other Writers.—As influenced by Others.—His Place as a Thinker.—Idealism and Intuition.—Mysticism.—His Attitude respecting Science.—As an American.—His Fondness for Solitary Study.—His Patience and Amiability.—Feeling with which he was regarded.—Emerson and Burns.—His Religious Belief.—His Relations with Clergymen.—Future of his Reputation.—His Life judged by the Ideal Standard
“I have the feeling that every man’s biography is at his own expense. He furnishes not only the facts, but the report. I mean that all biography is autobiography. It is only what he tells of himself that comes to be known and believed.”
So writes the man whose life we are to pass in review, and it is certainly as true of him as of any author we could name. He delineates himself so perfectly in his various writings that the careful reader sees his nature just as it was in all its essentials, and has little more to learn than those human accidents which individualize him in space and time. About all these accidents we have a natural and pardonable curiosity. We wish to know of what race he came, what were the conditions into which he was born, what educational and social influences helped to mould his character, and what new elements Nature added to make him Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He himself believes in the hereditary transmission of certain characteristics. Though Nature appears capricious, he says, “Some qualities she carefully fixes and transmits, but some, and those the finer, she exhales with the breath of the individual, as too costly to perpetuate. But I notice also that they may become fixed and permanent in any stock, by painting and repainting them on every individual, until at last Nature adopts them and bakes them in her porcelain.”
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We have in New England a certain number of families who constitute what may be called the Academic Races. Their names have been on college catalogues for generation after generation. They have filled the learned professions, more especially the ministry, from the old colonial days to our own time. If aptitudes for the acquisition of knowledge can be bred into a family as the qualities the sportsman wants in his dog are developed in pointers and setters, we know what we may expect of a descendant of one of the Academic Races. Other things being equal, he will take more naturally, more easily, to his books. His features will be more pliable, his voice will be more flexible, his whole nature more plastic than those of the youth with less favoring antecedents. The gift of genius is never to be reckoned upon beforehand, any more than a choice new variety of pear or peach in a seedling; it is always a surprise, but it is born with great advantages when the stock from which it springs has been long under cultivation.