“The English have many virtues, many advantages, and the proudest history in the world; but they need all and more than all the resources of the past to indemnify a heroic gentleman in that country for the mortifications prepared for him by the system of society, and which seem to impose the alternative to resist or to avoid it.... It is for Englishmen to consider, not for us; we only say, Let us live in America, too thankful for our want of feudal institutions.... If only the men are employed in conspiring with the designs of the Spirit who led us hither, and is leading us still, we shall quickly enough advance out of all hearing of others’ censures, out of all regrets of our own, into a new and more excellent social state than history has recorded.”
Thirty years have passed since the lecture from which these passages are taken was delivered. The “Young American” of that day is the more than middle-aged American of the present. The intellectual independence of our country is far more solidly established than when this lecture was written. But the social alliance between certain classes of Americans and English is more and more closely cemented from year to year, as the wealth of the new world burrows its way among the privileged classes of the old world. It is a poor ambition for the possessor of suddenly acquired wealth to have it appropriated as a feeder of the impaired fortunes of a deteriorated household, with a family record of which its representatives are unworthy. The plain and wholesome language of Emerson is on the whole more needed now than it was when spoken. His words have often been extolled for their stimulating quality; following the same analogy, they are, as in this address, in a high degree tonic, bracing, strengthening to the American, who requires to be reminded of his privileges that he may know and find himself equal to his duties.
On the first day of August, 1844, Emerson delivered in Concord an address on the Anniversary of the Emancipation of the Negroes in the British West India Islands. This discourse would not have satisfied the Abolitionists. It was too general in its propositions, full of humane and generous sentiments, but not looking to their extreme and immediate method of action.
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Emerson’s second series of Essays was published in 1844. There are many sayings in the Essay called “The Poet,” which are meant for the initiated, rather than for him who runs, to read:—
“All that we call sacred
history attests that the birth of a poet is
the principal event in chronology.”
Does this sound wild and extravagant? What were the political ups and downs of the Hebrews,—what were the squabbles of the tribes with each other, or with their neighbors, compared to the birth of that poet to whom we owe the Psalms,—the sweet singer whose voice is still the dearest of all that ever sang to the heart of mankind?