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Title: Emerson and Other Essays
Author: Chapman, John Jay
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                        AND OTHER ESSAYS

                       JOHN JAY CHAPMAN

                           AMS PRESS

                           NEW YORK

                  _Second Printing 1969_

           Reprinted from the edition of 1899, New York
                 First AMS EDITION published 1965
           Manufactured in the United States of America

         Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 75-108126
                        SEN: 404-00619-1


            EMERSON                                3

            WALT WHITMAN                         111

            A STUDY OF ROMEO                     131

            MICHAEL ANGELO'S SONNETS             153

            THE FOURTH CANTO OF THE INFERNO      173

            ROBERT BROWNING                      185

            ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON               217



  "Leave this hypocritical prating about the masses. Masses are rude,
  lame, unmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need
  not to be flattered, but to be schooled. I wish not to concede
  anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and
  draw individuals out of them. The worst of charity is that the lives
  you are asked to preserve are not worth preserving. Masses! The
  calamity is the masses. I do not wish any mass at all, but honest
  men only, lovely, sweet, accomplished women only, and no
  shovel-handed, narrow-brained, gin-drinking million stockingers or
  lazzaroni at all. If government knew how, I should like to see it
  check, not multiply the population. When it reaches its true law of
  action, every man that is born will be hailed as essential. Away
  with this hurrah of masses, and let us have the considerate vote of
  single men spoken on their honor and their conscience."

This extract from The Conduct of Life gives fairly enough the leading
thought of Emerson's life. The unending warfare between the individual
and society shows us in each generation a poet or two, a dramatist or a
musician who exalts and deifies the individual, and leads us back again
to the only object which is really worthy of enthusiasm or which can
permanently excite it,--the character of a man. It is surprising to find
this identity of content in all great deliverances. The only thing we
really admire is personal liberty. Those who fought for it and those who
enjoyed it are our heroes.

But the hero may enslave his race by bringing in a system of tyranny;
the battle-cry of freedom may become a dogma which crushes the soul; one
good custom may corrupt the world. And so the inspiration of one age
becomes the damnation of the next. This crystallizing of life into death
has occurred so often that it may almost be regarded as one of the laws
of progress.

Emerson represents a protest against the tyranny of democracy. He is the
most recent example of elemental hero-worship. His opinions are
absolutely unqualified except by his temperament. He expresses a form of
belief in the importance of the individual which is independent of any
personal relations he has with the world. It is as if a man had been
withdrawn from the earth and dedicated to condensing and embodying this
eternal idea--the value of the individual soul--so vividly, so vitally,
that his words could not die, yet in such illusive and abstract forms
that by no chance and by no power could his creed be used for purposes
of tyranny. Dogma cannot be extracted from it. Schools cannot be built
on it. It either lives as the spirit lives, or else it evaporates and
leaves nothing. Emerson was so afraid of the letter that killeth that he
would hardly trust his words to print. He was assured there was no such
thing as literal truth, but only literal falsehood. He therefore
resorted to metaphors which could by no chance be taken literally. And
he has probably succeeded in leaving a body of work which cannot be made
to operate to any other end than that for which he designed it. If this
be true, he has accomplished the inconceivable feat of eluding
misconception. If it be true, he stands alone in the history of
teachers; he has circumvented fate, he has left an unmixed blessing
behind him.

The signs of those times which brought forth Emerson are not wholly
undecipherable. They are the same times which gave rise to every
character of significance during the period before the war. Emerson is
indeed the easiest to understand of all the men of his time, because his
life is freest from the tangles and qualifications of circumstance. He
is a sheer and pure type and creature of destiny, and the
unconsciousness that marks his development allies him to the deepest
phenomena. It is convenient, in describing him, to use language which
implies consciousness on his part, but he himself had no purpose, no
theory of himself; he was a product.

The years between 1820 and 1830 were the most pitiable through which
this country has ever passed. The conscience of the North was pledged to
the Missouri Compromise, and that Compromise neither slumbered nor
slept. In New England, where the old theocratical oligarchy of the
colonies had survived the Revolution and kept under its own waterlocks
the new flood of trade, the conservatism of politics reinforced the
conservatism of religion; and as if these two inquisitions were not
enough to stifle the soul of man, the conservatism of business
self-interest was superimposed. The history of the conflicts which
followed has been written by the radicals, who negligently charge up to
self-interest all the resistance which establishments offer to change.
But it was not solely self-interest, it was conscience that backed the
Missouri Compromise, nowhere else, naturally, so strongly as in New
England. It was conscience that made cowards of us all. The white-lipped
generation of Edward Everett were victims, one might even say martyrs,
to conscience. They suffered the most terrible martyrdom that can fall
to man, a martyrdom which injured their immortal volition and dried up
the springs of life. If it were not that our poets have too seldom
deigned to dip into real life, I do not know what more awful subject for
a poem could have been found than that of the New England judge
enforcing the fugitive slave law. For lack of such a poem the heroism of
these men has been forgotten, the losing heroism of conservatism. It was
this spiritual power of a committed conscience which met the new forces
as they arose, and it deserves a better name than these new forces
afterward gave it. In 1830 the social fruits of these heavy conditions
could be seen in the life of the people. Free speech was lost.

"I know no country," says Tocqueville, who was here in 1831, "in which
there is so little independence of mind and freedom of discussion as in
America." Tocqueville recurs to the point again and again. He cannot
disguise his surprise at it, and it tinged his whole philosophy and his
book. The timidity of the Americans of this era was a thing which
intelligent foreigners could not understand. Miss Martineau wrote in her
Autobiography: "It was not till months afterwards that I was told that
there were two reasons why I was not invited there [Chelsea] as
elsewhere. One reason was that I had avowed, in reply to urgent
questions, that I was disappointed in an oration of Mr. Everett's; and
another was that I had publicly condemned the institution of slavery. I
hope the Boston people have outgrown the childishness of sulking at
opinions not in either case volunteered, but obtained by pressure. But
really, the subservience to opinion at that time seemed a sort of

The mania was by no means confined to Boston, but qualified this period
of our history throughout the Northern States. There was no literature.
"If great writers have not at present existed in America, the reason is
very simply given in the fact that there can be no literary genius
without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in
America," wrote Tocqueville. There were no amusements, neither music nor
sport nor pastime, indoors or out of doors. The whole life of the
community was a life of the intelligence, and upon the intelligence lay
the weight of intellectual tyranny. The pressure kept on increasing, and
the suppressed forces kept on increasing, till at last, as if to show
what gigantic power was needed to keep conservatism dominant, the
Merchant Province put forward Daniel Webster.

The worst period of panic seems to have preceded the anti-slavery
agitations of 1831, because these agitations soon demonstrated that the
sky did not fall nor the earth yawn and swallow Massachusetts because of
Mr. Garrison's opinions, as most people had sincerely believed would be
the case. Some semblance of free speech was therefore gradually

Let us remember the world upon which the young Emerson's eyes opened.
The South was a plantation. The North crooked the hinges of the knee
where thrift might follow fawning. It was the era of Martin Chuzzlewit,
a malicious caricature,--founded on fact. This time of humiliation, when
there was no free speech, no literature, little manliness, no reality,
no simplicity, no accomplishment, was the era of American brag. We
flattered the foreigner and we boasted of ourselves. We were
over-sensitive, insolent, and cringing. As late as 1845, G.P. Putnam, a
most sensible and modest man, published a book to show what the country
had done in the field of culture. The book is a monument of the age.
With all its good sense and good humor, it justifies foreign contempt
because it is explanatory. Underneath everything lay a feeling of
unrest, an instinct,--"this country cannot permanently endure half slave
and half free,"--which was the truth, but which could not be uttered.

So long as there is any subject which men may not freely discuss, they
are timid upon all subjects. They wear an iron crown and talk in
whispers. Such social conditions crush and maim the individual, and
throughout New England, as throughout the whole North, the individual
was crushed and maimed.

The generous youths who came to manhood between 1820 and 1830, while
this deadly era was maturing, seem to have undergone a revulsion against
the world almost before touching it; at least two of them suffered,
revolted, and condemned, while still boys sitting on benches in school,
and came forth advancing upon this old society like gladiators. The
activity of William Lloyd Garrison, the man of action, preceded by
several years that of Emerson, who is his prophet. Both of them were
parts of one revolution. One of Emerson's articles of faith was that a
man's thoughts spring from his actions rather than his actions from his
thoughts, and possibly the same thing holds good for society at large.
Perhaps all truths, whether moral or economic, must be worked out in
real life before they are discovered by the student, and it was
therefore necessary that Garrison should be evolved earlier than

The silent years of early manhood, during which Emerson passed through
the Divinity School and to his ministry, known by few, understood by
none, least of all by himself, were years in which the revolting spirit
of an archangel thought out his creed. He came forth perfect, with that
serenity of which we have scarce another example in history,--that union
of the man himself, his beliefs, and his vehicle of expression that
makes men great because it makes them comprehensible. The philosophy
into which he had already transmuted all his earlier theology at the
time we first meet him consisted of a very simple drawing together of a
few ideas, all of which had long been familiar to the world. It is the
wonderful use he made of these ideas, the closeness with which they
fitted his soul, the tact with which he took what he needed, like a bird
building its nest, that make the originality, the man.

The conclusion of Berkeley, that the external world is known to us only
through our impressions, and that therefore, for aught we know, the
whole universe exists only in our own consciousness, cannot be
disproved. It is so simple a conception that a child may understand it;
and it has probably been passed before the attention of every thinking
man since Plato's time. The notion is in itself a mere philosophical
catch or crux to which there is no answer. It may be true. The mystics
made this doctrine useful. They were not content to doubt the
independent existence of the external world. They imagined that this
external world, the earth, the planets, the phenomena of nature, bore
some relation to the emotions and destiny of the soul. The soul and the
cosmos were somehow related, and related so intimately that the cosmos
might be regarded as a sort of projection or diagram of the soul.

Plato was the first man who perceived that this idea could be made to
provide the philosopher with a vehicle of expression more powerful than
any other. If a man will once plant himself firmly on the proposition
that _he is_ the universe, that every emotion or expression of his mind
is correlated in some way to phenomena in the external world, and that
he shall say how correlated, he is in a position where the power of
speech is at a maximum. His figures of speech, his tropes, his
witticisms, take rank with the law of gravity and the precession of the
equinoxes. Philosophical exaltation of the individual cannot go beyond
this point. It is the climax.

This is the school of thought to which Emerson belonged. The sun and
moon, the planets, are mere symbols. They signify whatever the poet
chooses. The planets for the most part stay in conjunction just long
enough to flash his thought through their symbolism, and no permanent
relation is established between the soul and the zodiac. There is,
however, one link of correlation between the external and internal
worlds which Emerson considered established, and in which he believed
almost literally, namely, the moral law. This idea he drew from Kant
through Coleridge and Wordsworth, and it is so familiar to us all that
it hardly needs stating. The fancy that the good, the true, the
beautiful,--all things of which we instinctively approve,--are somehow
connected together and are really one thing; that our appreciation of
them is in its essence the recognition of a law; that this law, in fact
all law and the very idea of law, is a mere subjective experience; and
that hence any external sequence which we coördinate and name, like the
law of gravity, is really intimately connected with our moral
nature,--this fancy has probably some basis of truth. Emerson adopted it
as a corner-stone of his thought.

Such are the ideas at the basis of Emerson's philosophy, and it is fair
to speak of them in this place because they antedate everything else
which we know of him. They had been for years in his mind before he
spoke at all. It was in the armor of this invulnerable idealism and with
weapons like shafts of light that he came forth to fight.

In 1836, at the age of thirty-three, Emerson published the little
pamphlet called Nature, which was an attempt to state his creed.
Although still young, he was not without experience of life. He had been
assistant minister to the Rev. Dr. Ware from 1829 to 1832, when he
resigned his ministry on account of his views regarding the Lord's
Supper. He had married and lost his first wife in the same interval. He
had been abroad and had visited Carlyle in 1833. He had returned and
settled in Concord, and had taken up the profession of lecturing, upon
which he in part supported himself ever after. It is unnecessary to
review these early lectures. "Large portions of them," says Mr. Cabot,
his biographer, "appeared afterwards in the Essays, especially those of
the first series." Suffice it that through them Emerson had become so
well known that although Nature was published anonymously, he was
recognized as the author. Many people had heard of him at the time he
resigned his charge, and the story went abroad that the young minister
of the Second Church had gone mad. The lectures had not discredited the
story, and Nature seemed to corroborate it. Such was the impression
which the book made upon Boston in 1836. As we read it to-day, we are
struck by its extraordinary beauty of language. It is a supersensuous,
lyrical, and sincere rhapsody, written evidently by a man of genius. It
reveals a nature compelling respect,--a Shelley, and yet a sort of
Yankee Shelley, who is mad only when the wind is nor'-nor'west; a mature
nature which must have been nourished for years upon its own thoughts,
to speak this new language so eloquently, to stand so calmly on its
feet. The deliverance of his thought is so perfect that this work adapts
itself to our mood and has the quality of poetry. This fluency Emerson
soon lost; it is the quality missing in his poetry. It is the
efflorescence of youth.

  "In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing
  a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky,
  without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good
  fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the
  brink of fear. In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the
  snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a
  child. In the woods is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of
  God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed,
  and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand
  years.... It is the uniform effect of culture on the human mind, not
  to shake our faith in the stability of particular phenomena, as
  heat, water, azote; but to lead us to regard nature as phenomenon,
  not a substance; to attribute necessary existence to spirit; to
  esteem nature as an accident and an effect."

Perhaps these quotations from the pamphlet called Nature are enough to
show the clouds of speculation in which Emerson had been walking. With
what lightning they were charged was soon seen.

In 1837 he was asked to deliver the Phi Beta Kappa oration at Cambridge.
This was the opportunity for which he had been waiting. The mystic and
eccentric young poet-preacher now speaks his mind, and he turns out to
be a man exclusively interested in real life. This recluse, too tender
for contact with the rough facts of the world, whose conscience has
retired him to rural Concord, pours out a vial of wrath. This cub puts
forth the paw of a full-grown lion.

Emerson has left behind him nothing stronger than this address, The
American Scholar. It was the first application of his views to the
events of his day, written and delivered in the heat of early manhood
while his extraordinary powers were at their height. It moves with a
logical progression of which he soon lost the habit. The subject of it,
the scholar's relation to the world, was the passion of his life. The
body of his belief is to be found in this address, and in any adequate
account of him the whole address ought to be given.

"Thus far," he said, "our holiday has been simply a friendly sign of the
survival of the love of letters amongst a people too busy to give to
letters any more. As such it is precious as the sign of an
indestructible instinct. Perhaps the time is already come when it ought
to be, and will be, something else; when the sluggard intellect of this
continent will look from under its iron lids and fill the postponed
expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of
mechanical skill.... The theory of books is noble. The scholar of the
first age received into him the world around; brooded thereon; gave it
the new arrangement of his own mind, and uttered it again. It came into
him life; it went out from him truth.... Yet hence arises a grave
mischief. The sacredness which attaches to the act of creation, the act
of thought, is transferred to the record. The poet chanting was felt to
be a divine man: henceforth the chant is divine, also. The writer was a
just and wise spirit: henceforward it is settled the book is perfect; as
love of the hero corrupts into worship of his statue. Instantly the book
becomes noxious: the guide is a tyrant.... Books are the best of things,
well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the
one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to
inspire.... The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul.
This every man is entitled to; this every man contains within him,
although in almost all men obstructed, and as yet unborn. The soul
active sees absolute truth and utters truth, or creates. In this action
it is genius; not the privilege of here and there a favorite, but the
sound estate of every man.... Genius is always sufficiently the enemy of
genius by over-influence. The literature of every nation bears me
witness. The English dramatic poets have Shakspearized now for two
hundred years.... These being his functions, it becomes him to feel all
confidence in himself, and to defer never to the popular cry. He, and he
only, knows the world. The world of any moment is the merest appearance.
Some great decorum, some fetish of a government, some ephemeral trade,
or war, or man, is cried up by half mankind and cried down by the other
half, as if all depended on this particular up or down. The odds are
that the whole question is not worth the poorest thought which the
scholar has lost in listening to the controversy. Let him not quit his
belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the ancient and honorable of
the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom."

Dr. Holmes called this speech of Emerson's our "intellectual
Declaration of Independence," and indeed it was. "The Phi Beta Kappa
speech," says Mr. Lowell, "was an event without any former parallel in
our literary annals,--a scene always to be treasured in the memory for
its picturesqueness and its inspiration. What crowded and breathless
aisles, what windows clustering with eager heads, what enthusiasm of
approval, what grim silence of foregone dissent!"

The authorities of the Divinity School can hardly have been very careful
readers of Nature and The American Scholar, or they would not have
invited Emerson, in 1838, to deliver the address to the graduating
class. This was Emerson's second opportunity to apply his beliefs
directly to society. A few lines out of the famous address are enough to
show that he saw in the church of his day signs of the same decadence
that he saw in the letters: "The prayers and even the dogmas of our
church are like the zodiac of Denderah and the astronomical monuments of
the Hindoos, wholly insulated from anything now extant in the life and
business of the people. They mark the height to which the waters once
rose.... It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not
was; that he speaketh, not spake. The true Christianity--a faith like
Christ's in the infinitude of man--is lost. None believeth in the soul
of man, but only in some man or person old and departed. Ah me! no man
goeth alone. All men go in flocks to this saint or that poet, avoiding
the God who seeth in secret. They cannot see in secret; they love to be
blind in public. They think society wiser than their soul, and know not
that one soul, and their soul, is wiser than the whole world."

It is almost misleading to speak of the lofty utterances of these early
addresses as attacks upon society, but their reception explains them.
The element of absolute courage is the same in all natures. Emerson
himself was not unconscious of what function he was performing.

The "storm in our wash-bowl" which followed this Divinity School
address, the letters of remonstrance from friends, the advertisements by
the Divinity School of "no complicity," must have been cheering to
Emerson. His unseen yet dominating ambition is shown throughout the
address, and in this note in his diary of the following year:--

  "_August_ 31. Yesterday at the Phi Beta Kappa anniversary. Steady,
  steady. I am convinced that if a man will be a true scholar he
  shall have perfect freedom. The young people and the mature hint at
  odium and the aversion of forces to be presently encountered in
  society. I say No; I fear it not."

The lectures and addresses which form the latter half of the first
volume in the collected edition show the early Emerson in the ripeness
of his powers. These writings have a lyrical sweep and a beauty which
the later works often lack. Passages in them remind us of Hamlet:--

  "How silent, how spacious, what room for all, yet without space to
  insert an atom;--in graceful succession, in equal fulness, in
  balanced beauty, the dance of the hours goes forward still. Like an
  odor of incense, like a strain of music, like a sleep, it is inexact
  and boundless. It will not be dissected, nor unravelled, nor
  shown.... The great Pan of old, who was clothed in a leopard skin to
  signify the beautiful variety of things and the firmament, his coat
  of stars,--was but the representative of thee, O rich and various
  man! thou palace of sight and sound, carrying in thy senses the
  morning and the night and the unfathomable galaxy; in thy brain, the
  geometry of the City of God; in thy heart, the bower of love and the
  realms of right and wrong.... Every star in heaven is discontent
  and insatiable. Gravitation and chemistry cannot content them. Ever
  they woo and court the eye of the beholder. Every man who comes into
  the world they seek to fascinate and possess, to pass into his mind,
  for they desire to republish themselves in a more delicate world
  than that they occupy.... So it is with all immaterial objects.
  These beautiful basilisks set their brute glorious eyes on the eye
  of every child, and, if they can, cause their nature to pass through
  his wondering eyes into him, and so all things are mixed."

Emerson is never far from his main thought:--

  "The universe does not attract us till it is housed in an
  individual." "A man, a personal ascendency, is the only great

  "I cannot find language of sufficient energy to convey my sense of
  the sacredness of private integrity."

On the other hand, he is never far from his great fear: "But Truth is
such a fly-away, such a sly-boots, so untransportable and unbarrelable a
commodity, that it is as bad to catch as light." "Let him beware of
proposing to himself any end.... I say to you plainly, there is no end
so sacred or so large that if pursued for itself will not become
carrion and an offence to the nostril."

There can be nothing finer than Emerson's knowledge of the world, his
sympathy with young men and with the practical difficulties of applying
his teachings. We can see in his early lectures before students and
mechanics how much he had learned about the structure of society from
his own short contact with the organized church.

  "Each finds a tender and very intelligent conscience a
  disqualification for success. Each requires of the practitioner a
  certain shutting of the eyes, a certain dapperness and compliance,
  an acceptance of customs, a sequestration from the sentiments of
  generosity and love, a compromise of private opinion and lofty
  integrity.... The fact that a new thought and hope have dawned in
  your breast, should apprise you that in the same hour a new light
  broke in upon a thousand private hearts.... And further I will not
  dissemble my hope that each person whom I address has felt his own
  call to cast aside all evil customs, timidity, and limitations, and
  to be in his place a free and helpful man, a reformer, a benefactor,
  not content to slip along through the world like a footman or a spy,
  escaping by his nimbleness and apologies as many knocks as he can,
  but a brave and upright man who must find or cut a straight road to
  everything excellent in the earth, and not only go honorably
  himself, but make it easier for all who follow him to go in honor
  and with benefit...."

Beneath all lay a greater matter,--Emerson's grasp of the forms and
conditions of progress, his reach of intellect, which could afford fair
play to every one.

His lecture on The Conservative is not a puzzling _jeu d'esprit_, like
Bishop Blougram's Apology, but an honest attempt to set up the opposing
chessmen of conservatism and reform so as to represent real life. Hardly
can such a brilliant statement of the case be found elsewhere in
literature. It is not necessary to quote here the reformer's side of the
question, for Emerson's whole life was devoted to it. The conservatives'
attitude he gives with such accuracy and such justice that the very
bankers of State Street seem to be speaking:--

  "The order of things is as good as the character of the population
  permits. Consider it as the work of a great and beneficent and
  progressive necessity, which, from the first pulsation in the first
  animal life up to the present high culture of the best nations, has
  advanced thus far....

  "The conservative party in the universe concedes that the radical
  would talk sufficiently to the purpose if we were still in the
  garden of Eden; he legislates for man as he ought to be; his theory
  is right, but he makes no allowance for friction, and this omission
  makes his whole doctrine false. The idealist retorts that the
  conservative falls into a far more noxious error in the other
  extreme. The conservative assumes sickness as a necessity, and his
  social frame is a hospital, his total legislation is for the present
  distress, a universe in slippers and flannels, with bib and
  pap-spoon, swallowing pills and herb tea. Sickness gets organized as
  well as health, the vice as well as the virtue."

It is unnecessary to go, one by one, through the familiar essays and
lectures which Emerson published between 1838 and 1875. They are in
everybody's hands and in everybody's thoughts. In 1840 he wrote in his
diary: "In all my lectures I have taught one doctrine, namely, the
infinitude of the private man. This the people accept readily enough,
and even with commendation, as long as I call the lecture Art or
Politics, or Literature or the Household; but the moment I call it
Religion they are shocked, though it be only the application of the same
truth which they receive elsewhere to a new class of facts." To the
platform he returned, and left it only once or twice during the
remainder of his life.

His writings vary in coherence. In his early occasional pieces, like the
Phi Beta Kappa address, coherence is at a maximum. They were written for
a purpose, and were perhaps struck off all at once. But he earned his
living by lecturing, and a lecturer is always recasting his work and
using it in different forms. A lecturer has no prejudice against
repetition. It is noticeable that in some of Emerson's important
lectures the logical scheme is more perfect than in his essays. The
truth seems to be that in the process of working up and perfecting his
writings, in revising and filing his sentences, the logical scheme
became more and more obliterated. Another circumstance helped make his
style fragmentary. He was by nature a man of inspirations and exalted
moods. He was subject to ecstasies, during which his mind worked with
phenomenal brilliancy. Throughout his works and in his diary we find
constant reference to these moods, and to his own inability to control
or recover them. "But what we want is consecutiveness. 'T is with us a
flash of light, then a long darkness, then a flash again. Ah! could we
turn these fugitive sparkles into an astronomy of Copernican worlds!"

In order to take advantage of these periods of divination, he used to
write down the thoughts that came to him at such times. From boyhood
onward he kept journals and commonplace books, and in the course of his
reading and meditation he collected innumerable notes and quotations
which he indexed for ready use. In these mines he "quarried," as Mr.
Cabot says, for his lectures and essays. When he needed a lecture he
went to the repository, threw together what seemed to have a bearing on
some subject, and gave it a title. If any other man should adopt this
method of composition, the result would be incomprehensible chaos;
because most men have many interests, many moods, many and conflicting
ideas. But with Emerson it was otherwise. There was only one thought
which could set him aflame, and that was the thought of the unfathomed
might of man. This thought was his religion, his politics, his ethics,
his philosophy. One moment of inspiration was in him own brother to the
next moment of inspiration, although they might be separated by six
weeks. When he came to put together his star-born ideas, they fitted
well, no matter in what order he placed them, because they were all
part of the same idea.

His works are all one single attack on the vice of the age, moral
cowardice. He assails it not by railings and scorn, but by positive and
stimulating suggestion. The imagination of the reader is touched by
every device which can awake the admiration for heroism, the
consciousness of moral courage. Wit, quotation, anecdote, eloquence,
exhortation, rhetoric, sarcasm, and very rarely denunciation, are
launched at the reader, till he feels little lambent flames beginning to
kindle in him. He is perhaps unable to see the exact logical connection
between two paragraphs of an essay, yet he feels they are germane. He
takes up Emerson tired and apathetic, but presently he feels himself
growing heady and truculent, strengthened in his most inward vitality,
surprised to find himself again master in his own house.

The difference between Emerson and the other moralists is that all these
stimulating pictures and suggestions are not given by him in
illustration of a general proposition. They have never been through the
mill of generalization in his own mind. He himself could not have told
you their logical bearing on one another. They have all the vividness of
disconnected fragments of life, and yet they all throw light on one
another, like the facets of a jewel. But whatever cause it was that led
him to adopt his method of writing, it is certain that he succeeded in
delivering himself of his thought with an initial velocity and carrying
power such as few men ever attained. He has the force at his command of
the thrower of the discus.

His style is American, and beats with the pulse of the climate. He is
the only writer we have had who writes as he speaks, who makes no
literary parade, has no pretensions of any sort. He is the only writer
we have had who has wholly subdued his vehicle to his temperament. It is
impossible to name his style without naming his character: they are one

Both in language and in elocution Emerson was a practised and consummate
artist, who knew how both to command his effects and to conceal his
means. The casual, practical, disarming directness with which he writes
puts any honest man at his mercy. What difference does it make whether a
man who can talk like this is following an argument or not? You cannot
always see Emerson clearly; he is hidden by a high wall; but you always
know exactly on what spot he is standing. You judge it by the flight of
the objects he throws over the wall,--a bootjack, an apple, a crown, a
razor, a volume of verse. With one or other of these missiles, all
delivered with a very tolerable aim, he is pretty sure to hit you. These
catchwords stick in the mind. People are not in general influenced by
long books or discourses, but by odd fragments of observation which they
overhear, sentences or head-lines which they read while turning over a
book at random or while waiting for dinner to be announced. These are
the oracles and orphic words that get lodged in the mind and bend a
man's most stubborn will. Emerson called them the Police of the
Universe. His works are a treasury of such things. They sparkle in the
mine, or you may carry them off in your pocket. They get driven into
your mind like nails, and on them catch and hang your own experiences,
till what was once his thought has become your character.

  "God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take
  which you please; you can never have both." "Discontent is want of
  self-reliance; it is infirmity of will." "It is impossible for a man
  to be cheated by any one but himself."

The orchestration with which Emerson introduces and sustains these
notes from the spheres is as remarkable as the winged things themselves.
Open his works at a hazard. You hear a man talking.

  "A garden is like those pernicious machineries we read of every
  month in the newspapers, which catch a man's coat-skirt or his hand,
  and draw in his arm, his leg, and his whole body to irresistible
  destruction. In an evil hour he pulled down his wall and added a
  field to his homestead. No land is bad, but land is worse. If a man
  own land, the land owns him. Now let him leave home if he dare.
  Every tree and graft, every hill of melons, row of corn, or quickset
  hedge, all he has done and all he means to do, stand in his way like
  duns, when he would go out of his gate."

Your attention is arrested by the reality of this gentleman in his
garden, by the first-hand quality of his mind. It matters not on what
subject he talks. While you are musing, still pleased and patronizing,
he has picked up the bow of Ulysses, bent it with the ease of Ulysses,
and sent a shaft clear through the twelve axes, nor missed one of them.
But this, it seems, was mere byplay and marksmanship; for before you
have done wondering, Ulysses rises to his feet in anger, and pours
flight after flight, arrow after arrow, from the great bow. The shafts
sing and strike, the suitors fall in heaps. The brow of Ulysses shines
with unearthly splendor. The air is filled with lightning. After a
little, without shock or transition, without apparent change of tone,
Mr. Emerson is offering you a biscuit before you leave, and bidding you
mind the last step at the garden end. If the man who can do these things
be not an artist, then must we have a new vocabulary and rename the

There is, in all this effectiveness of Emerson, no pose, no literary
art; nothing that corresponds even remotely to the pretended modesty and
ignorance with which Socrates lays pitfalls for our admiration in
Plato's dialogues.

It was the platform which determined Emerson's style. He was not a
writer, but a speaker. On the platform his manner of speech was a living
part of his words. The pauses and hesitation, the abstraction, the
searching, the balancing, the turning forward and back of the leaves of
his lecture, and then the discovery, the illumination, the gleam of
lightning which you saw before your eyes descend into a man of
genius,--all this was Emerson. He invented this style of speaking, and
made it express the supersensuous, the incommunicable. Lowell wrote,
while still under the spell of the magician: "Emerson's oration was more
disjointed than usual, even with him. It began nowhere, and ended
everywhere, and yet, as always with that divine man, it left you feeling
that something beautiful had passed that way, something more beautiful
than anything else, like the rising and setting of stars. Every possible
criticism might have been made on it but one,--that it was not noble.
There was a tone in it that awakened all elevating associations. He
boggled, he lost his place, he had to put on his glasses; but it was as
if a creature from some fairer world had lost his way in our fogs, and
it was _our_ fault, not his. It was chaotic, but it was all such stuff
as stars are made of, and you couldn't help feeling that, if you waited
awhile, all that was nebulous would be whirled into planets, and would
assume the mathematical gravity of system. All through it I felt
something in me that cried, 'Ha! ha!' to the sound of the trumpets."

It is nothing for any man sitting in his chair to be overcome with the
sense of the immediacy of life, to feel the spur of courage, the victory
of good over evil, the value, now and forever, of all great-hearted
endeavor. Such moments come to us all. But for a man to sit in his chair
and write what shall call up these forces in the bosoms of others--that
is desert, that is greatness. To do this was the gift of Emerson. The
whole earth is enriched by every moment of converse with him. The shows
and shams of life become transparent, the lost kingdoms are brought
back, the shutters of the spirit are opened, and provinces and realms of
our own existence lie gleaming before us.

It has been necessary to reduce the living soul of Emerson to mere dead
attributes like "moral courage" in order that we might talk about him at
all. His effectiveness comes from his character; not from his
philosophy, nor from his rhetoric nor his wit, nor from any of the
accidents of his education. He might never have heard of Berkeley or
Plato. A slightly different education might have led him to throw his
teaching into the form of historical essays or of stump speeches. He
might, perhaps, have been bred a stonemason, and have done his work in
the world by travelling with a panorama. But he would always have been
Emerson. His weight and his power would always have been the same. It is
solely as character that he is important. He discovered nothing; he
bears no relation whatever to the history of philosophy. We must regard
him and deal with him simply as a man.

Strangely enough, the world has always insisted upon accepting him as a
thinker: and hence a great coil of misunderstanding. As a thinker,
Emerson is difficult to classify. Before you begin to assign him a
place, you must clear the ground by a disquisition as to what is meant
by "a thinker", and how Emerson differs from other thinkers. As a man,
Emerson is as plain as Ben Franklin.

People have accused him of inconsistency; they say that he teaches one
thing one day, and another the next day. But from the point of view of
Emerson there is no such thing as inconsistency. Every man is each day a
new man. Let him be to-day what he is to-day. It is immaterial and waste
of time to consider what he once was or what he may be.

His picturesque speech delights in fact and anecdote, and a public which
is used to treatises and deduction cares always to be told the moral. It
wants everything reduced to a generalization. All generalizations are
partial truths, but we are used to them, and we ourselves mentally make
the proper allowance. Emerson's method is, not to give a generalization
and trust to our making the allowance, but to give two conflicting
statements and leave the balance of truth to be struck in our own minds
on the facts. There is no inconsistency in this. It is a vivid and very
legitimate method of procedure. But he is much more than a theorist: he
is a practitioner. He does not merely state a theory of agitation: he
proceeds to agitate. "Do not," he says, "set the least value on what I
do, or the least discredit on what I do not, as if I pretended to settle
anything as false or true. I unsettle all things. No facts are to me
sacred, none are profane. I simply experiment, an endless seeker with no
past at my back." He was not engaged in teaching many things, but one
thing,--Courage. Sometimes he inspires it by pointing to great
characters,--Fox, Milton, Alcibiades; sometimes he inspires it by
bidding us beware of imitating such men, and, in the ardor of his
rhetoric, even seems to regard them as hindrances and dangers to our
development. There is no inconsistency here. Emerson might logically
have gone one step further and raised inconsistency into a jewel. For
what is so useful, so educational, so inspiring, to a timid and
conservative man, as to do something inconsistent and regrettable? It
lends character to him at once. He breathes freer and is stronger for
the experience.

Emerson is no cosmopolitan. He is a patriot. He is not like Goethe,
whose sympathies did not run on national lines. Emerson has America in
his mind's eye all the time. There is to be a new religion, and it is to
come from America; a new and better type of man, and he is to be an
American. He not only cared little or nothing for Europe, but he cared
not much for the world at large. His thought was for the future of this
country. You cannot get into any chamber in his mind which is below this
chamber of patriotism. He loves the valor of Alexander and the grace of
the Oxford athlete; but he loves them not for themselves. He has a use
for them. They are grist to his mill and powder to his gun. His
admiration of them he subordinates to his main purpose,--they are his
blackboard and diagrams. His patriotism is the backbone of his
significance. He came to his countrymen at a time when they lacked, not
thoughts, but manliness. The needs of his own particular public are
always before him.

  "It is odd that our people should have, not water on the brain, but
  a little gas there. A shrewd foreigner said of the Americans that
  'whatever they say has a little the air of a speech.'"

  "I shall not need to go into an enumeration of our national defects
  and vices which require this Order of Censors in the State.... The
  timidity of our public opinion is our disease, or, shall I say, the
  publicness of opinion, the absence of private opinion."

  "Our measure of success is the moderation and low level of an
  individual's judgment. Dr. Channing's piety and wisdom had such
  weight in Boston that the popular idea of religion was whatever this
  eminent divine held."

  "Let us affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity, the squalid
  contentment of the times."

The politicians he scores constantly.

  "Who that sees the meanness of our politics but congratulates
  Washington that he is long already wrapped in his shroud and forever
  safe." The following is his description of the social world of his
  day: "If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by
  distinction _society_, he will see the need of these ethics. The
  sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become
  timorous, desponding whimperers."

It is the same wherever we open his books. He must spur on, feed up,
bring forward the dormant character of his countrymen. When he goes to
England, he sees in English life nothing except those elements which are
deficient in American life. If you wish a catalogue of what America has
not, read English Traits. Emerson's patriotism had the effect of
expanding his philosophy. To-day we know the value of physique, for
science has taught it, but it was hardly discovered in his day, and his
philosophy affords no basis for it. Emerson in this matter transcends
his philosophy. When in England, he was fairly made drunk with the
physical life he found there. He is like Caspar Hauser gazing for the
first time on green fields. English Traits is the ruddiest book he ever
wrote. It is a hymn to force, honesty, and physical well-being, and ends
with the dominant note of his belief: "By this general activity and by
this sacredness of individuals, they [the English] have in seven hundred
years evolved the principles of freedom. It is the land of patriots,
martyrs, sages, and bards, and if the ocean out of which it emerged
should wash it away, it will be remembered as an island famous for
immortal laws, for the announcements of original right which make the
stone tables of liberty." He had found in England free speech, personal
courage, and reverence for the individual.

No convulsion could shake Emerson or make his view unsteady even for an
instant. What no one else saw, he saw, and he saw nothing else. Not a
boy in the land welcomed the outbreak of the war so fiercely as did this
shy village philosopher, then at the age of fifty-eight. He saw that war
was the cure for cowardice, moral as well as physical. It was not the
cause of the slave that moved him; it was not the cause of the Union for
which he cared a farthing. It was something deeper than either of these
things for which he had been battling all his life. It was the cause of
character against convention. Whatever else the war might bring, it was
sure to bring in character, to leave behind it a file of heroes; if not
heroes, then villains, but in any case strong men. On the 9th of April,
1861, three days before Fort Sumter was bombarded, he had spoken with
equanimity of "the downfall of our character-destroying civilization....
We find that civilization crowed too soon, that our triumphs were
treacheries; we had opened the wrong door and let the enemy into the

"Ah," he said, when the firing began, "sometimes gunpowder smells good."
Soon after the attack on Sumter he said in a public address, "We have
been very homeless for some years past, say since 1850; but now we have
a country again.... The war was an eye-opener, and showed men of all
parties and opinions the value of those primary forces that lie beneath
all political action." And it was almost a personal pledge when he said
at the Harvard Commemoration in 1865, "We shall not again disparage
America, now that we have seen what men it will bear."

The place which Emerson forever occupies as a great critic is defined by
the same sharp outlines that mark his work, in whatever light and from
whatever side we approach it. A critic in the modern sense he was not,
for his point of view is fixed, and he reviews the world like a
search-light placed on the top of a tall tower. He lived too early and
at too great a distance from the forum of European thought to absorb the
ideas of evolution and give place to them in his philosophy. Evolution
does not graft well upon the Platonic Idealism, nor are physiology and
the kindred sciences sympathetic. Nothing aroused Emerson's indignation
more than the attempts of the medical faculty and of phrenologists to
classify, and therefore limit individuals. "The grossest ignorance does
not disgust me like this ignorant knowingness."

We miss in Emerson the underlying conception of growth, of development,
so characteristic of the thought of our own day, and which, for
instance, is found everywhere latent in Browning's poetry. Browning
regards character as the result of experience and as an ever changing
growth. To Emerson, character is rather an entity complete and eternal
from the beginning. He is probably the last great writer to look at life
from a stationary standpoint. There is a certain lack of the historic
sense in all he has written. The ethical assumption that all men are
exactly alike permeates his work. In his mind, Socrates, Marco Polo, and
General Jackson stand surrounded by the same atmosphere, or rather stand
as mere naked characters surrounded by no atmosphere at all. He is
probably the last great writer who will fling about classic anecdotes as
if they were club gossip. In the discussion of morals, this assumption
does little harm. The stories and proverbs which illustrate the thought
of the moralist generally concern only those simple relations of life
which are common to all ages. There is charm in this familiar dealing
with antiquity. The classics are thus domesticated and made real to us.
What matter if Æsop appear a little too much like an American citizen,
so long as his points tell?

It is in Emerson's treatment of the fine arts that we begin to notice
his want of historic sense. Art endeavors to express subtle and ever
changing feelings by means of conventions which are as protean as the
forms of a cloud; and the man who in speaking on the plastic arts makes
the assumption that all men are alike will reveal before he has uttered
three sentences that he does not know what art is, that he has never
experienced any form of sensation from it. Emerson lived in a time and
clime where there was no plastic art, and he was obliged to arrive at
his ideas about art by means of a highly complex process of reasoning.
He dwelt constantly in a spiritual place which was the very focus of
high moral fervor. This was his enthusiasm, this was his revelation, and
from it he reasoned out the probable meaning of the fine arts. "This,"
thought Emerson, his eye rolling in a fine frenzy of moral feeling,
"this must be what Apelles experienced, this fervor is the passion of
Bramante. I understand the Parthenon." And so he projected his feelings
about morality into the field of the plastic arts. He deals very freely
and rather indiscriminately with the names of artists,--Phidias,
Raphael, Salvator Rosa,--and he speaks always in such a way that it is
impossible to connect what he says with any impression we have ever
received from the works of those masters.

In fact, Emerson has never in his life felt the normal appeal of any
painting, or any sculpture, or any architecture, or any music. These
things, of which he does not know the meaning in real life, he yet uses,
and uses constantly, as symbols to convey ethical truths. The result is
that his books are full of blind places, like the notes which will not
strike on a sick piano.

It is interesting to find that the one art of which Emerson did have a
direct understanding, the art of poetry, gave him some insight into the
relation of the artist to his vehicle. In his essay on Shakespeare there
is a full recognition of the debt of Shakespeare to his times. This
essay is filled with the historic sense. We ought not to accuse Emerson
because he lacked appreciation of the fine arts, but rather admire the
truly Goethean spirit in which he insisted upon the reality of arts of
which he had no understanding. This is the same spirit which led him to
insist on the value of the Eastern poets. Perhaps there exist a few
scholars who can tell us how far Emerson understood or misunderstood
Saadi and Firdusi and the Koran. But we need not be disturbed for his
learning. It is enough that he makes us recognize that these men were
men too, and that their writings mean something not unknowable to us.
The East added nothing to Emerson, but gave him a few trappings of
speech. The whole of his mysticism is to be found in Nature, written
before he knew the sages of the Orient, and it is not improbable that
there is some real connection between his own mysticism and the
mysticism of the Eastern poets.

Emerson's criticism on men and books is like the test of a great chemist
who seeks one or two elements. He burns a bit of the stuff in his
incandescent light, shows the lines of it in his spectrum, and there an

It was a thought of genius that led him to write Representative Men. The
scheme of this book gave play to every illumination of his mind, and it
pinned him down to the objective, to the field of vision under his
microscope. The table of contents of Representative Men is the dial of
his education. It is as follows: Uses of Great Men; Plato, or The
Philosopher; Plato, New Readings; Swedenborg, or The Mystic; Montaigne,
or The Sceptic; Shakespeare, or The Poet; Napoleon, or The Man of the
World; Goethe, or The Writer. The predominance of the writers over all
other types of men is not cited to show Emerson's interest in The
Writer, for we know his interest centred in the practical man,--even his
ideal scholar is a practical man,--but to show the sources of his
illustration. Emerson's library was the old-fashioned gentleman's
library. His mines of thought were the world's classics. This is one
reason why he so quickly gained an international currency. His very
subjects in Representative Men are of universal interest, and he is
limited only by certain inevitable local conditions. Representative Men
is thought by many persons to be his best book. It is certainly filled
with the strokes of a master. There exists no more profound criticism
than Emerson's analysis of Goethe and of Napoleon, by both of whom he
was at once fascinated and repelled.


The attitude of Emerson's mind toward reformers results so logically
from his philosophy that it is easily understood. He saw in them people
who sought something as a panacea or as an end in itself. To speak
strictly and not irreverently, he had his own panacea,--the development
of each individual; and he was impatient of any other. He did not
believe in association. The very idea of it involved a surrender by the
individual of some portion of his identity, and of course all the
reformers worked through their associations. With their general aims he
sympathized. "These reforms," he wrote, "are our contemporaries; they
are ourselves, our own light and sight and conscience; they only name
the relation which subsists between us and the vicious institutions
which they go to rectify." But with the methods of the reformers he had
no sympathy: "He who aims at progress should aim at an infinite, not at
a special benefit. The reforms whose fame now fills the land with
temperance, anti-slavery, non-resistance, no-government, equal labor,
fair and generous as each appears, are poor bitter things when
prosecuted for themselves as an end." Again: "The young men who have
been vexing society for these last years with regenerative methods seem
to have made this mistake: they all exaggerated some special means, and
all failed to see that the reform of reforms must be accomplished
without means."

Emerson did not at first discriminate between the movement of the
Abolitionists and the hundred and one other reform movements of the
period; and in this lack of discrimination lies a point of extraordinary
interest. The Abolitionists, as it afterwards turned out, had in fact
got hold of the issue which was to control the fortunes of the republic
for thirty years. The difference between them and the other reformers
was this: that the Abolitionists were men set in motion by the primary
and unreasoning passion of pity. Theory played small part in the
movement. It grew by the excitement which exhibitions of cruelty will
arouse in the minds of sensitive people.

It is not to be denied that the social conditions in Boston in 1831
foreboded an outbreak in some form. If the abolition excitement had not
drafted off the rising forces, there might have been a Merry Mount, an
epidemic of crime or insanity, or a mob of some sort. The abolition
movement afforded the purest form of an indulgence in human feeling that
was ever offered to men. It was intoxicating. It made the agitators
perfectly happy. They sang at their work and bubbled over with
exhilaration. They were the only people in the United States, at this
time, who were enjoying an exalted, glorifying, practical activity.

But Emerson at first lacked the touchstone, whether of intellect or of
heart, to see the difference between this particular movement and the
other movements then in progress. Indeed, in so far as he sees any
difference between the Abolitionists and the rest, it is that the
Abolitionists were more objectionable and distasteful to him. "Those,"
he said, "who are urging with most ardor what are called the greatest
benefits to mankind are narrow, conceited, self-pleasing men, and affect
us as the insane do." And again: "By the side of these men [the
idealists] the hot agitators have a certain cheap and ridiculous air;
they even look smaller than others. Of the two, I own I like the
speculators the best. They have some piety which looks with faith to a
fair future unprofaned by rash and unequal attempts to realize it." He
was drawn into the abolition cause by having the truth brought home to
him that these people were fighting for the Moral Law. He was slow in
seeing this, because in their methods they represented everything he
most condemned. As soon, however, as he was convinced, he was ready to
lecture for them and to give them the weight of his approval. In 1844 he
was already practically an Abolitionist, and his feelings upon the
matter deepened steadily in intensity ever after.

The most interesting page of Emerson's published journal is the
following, written at some time previous to 1844; the exact date is not
given. A like page, whether written or unwritten, may be read into the
private annals of every man who lived before the war. Emerson has, with
unconscious mastery, photographed the half-spectre that stalked in the
minds of all. He wrote: "I had occasion to say the other day to
Elizabeth Hoar that I like best the strong and worthy persons, like her
father, who support the social order without hesitation or misgiving. I
like these; they never incommode us by exciting grief, pity, or
perturbation of any sort. But the professed philanthropists, it is
strange and horrible to say, are an altogether odious set of people,
whom one would shun as the worst of bores and canters. But my
conscience, my unhappy conscience respects that hapless class who see
the faults and stains of our social order, and who pray and strive
incessantly to right the wrong; this annoying class of men and women,
though they commonly find the work altogether beyond their faculty, and
their results are, for the present, distressing. They are partial, and
apt to magnify their own. Yes, and the prostrate penitent, also,--he is
not comprehensive, he is not philosophical in those tears and groans.
Yet I feel that under him and his partiality and exclusiveness is the
earth and the sea and all that in them is, and the axis around which the
universe revolves passes through his body where he stands."

It was the defection of Daniel Webster that completed the conversion of
Emerson and turned him from an adherent into a propagandist of
abolition. Not pity for the slave, but indignation at the violation of
the Moral Law by Daniel Webster, was at the bottom of Emerson's anger.
His abolitionism was secondary to his main mission, his main enthusiasm.
It is for this reason that he stands on a plane of intellect where he
might, under other circumstances, have met and defeated Webster. After
the 7th of March, 1850, he recognized in Webster the embodiment of all
that he hated. In his attacks on Webster, Emerson trembles to his inmost
fibre with antagonism. He is savage, destructive, personal, bent on

This exhibition of Emerson as a fighting animal is magnificent, and
explains his life. There is no other instance of his ferocity. No other
nature but Webster's ever so moved him; but it was time to be moved, and
Webster was a man of his size. Had these two great men of New England
been matched in training as they were matched in endowment, and had they
then faced each other in debate, they would not have been found to
differ so greatly in power. Their natures were electrically repellent,
but from which did the greater force radiate? Their education differed
so radically that it is impossible to compare them, but if you translate
the Phi Beta Kappa address into politics, you have something stronger
than Webster,--something that recalls Chatham; and Emerson would have
had this advantage,--that he was not afraid. As it was, he left his
library and took the stump. Mr. Cabot has given us extracts from his

  "The tameness is indeed complete; all are involved in one hot haste
  of terror,--presidents of colleges and professors, saints and
  brokers, lawyers and manufacturers; not a liberal recollection, not
  so much as a snatch of an old song for freedom, dares intrude on
  their passive obedience.... Mr. Webster, perhaps, is only following
  the laws of his blood and constitution. I suppose his pledges were
  not quite natural to him. He is a man who lives by his memory; a man
  of the past, not a man of faith and of hope. All the drops of his
  blood have eyes that look downward, and his finely developed
  understanding only works truly and with all its force when it stands
  for animal good; that is, for property. He looks at the Union as an
  estate, a large farm, and is excellent in the completeness of his
  defence of it so far. What he finds already written he will defend.
  Lucky that so much had got well written when he came, for he has no
  faith in the power of self-government. Not the smallest municipal
  provision, if it were new, would receive his sanction. In
  Massachusetts, in 1776, he would, beyond all question, have been a
  refugee. He praises Adams and Jefferson, but it is a past Adams and
  Jefferson. A present Adams or Jefferson he would denounce.... But
  one thing appears certain to me: that the Union is at an end as soon
  as an immoral law is enacted. He who writes a crime into the
  statute book digs under the foundations of the Capitol.... The words
  of John Randolph, wiser than he knew, have been ringing ominously in
  all echoes for thirty years: 'We do not govern the people of the
  North by our black slaves, but by their own white slaves.' ... They
  come down now like the cry of fate, in the moment when they are

The exasperation of Emerson did not subside, but went on increasing
during the next four years, and on March 7, 1854, he read his lecture on
the Fugitive Slave Law at the New York Tabernacle: "I have lived all my
life without suffering any inconvenience from American Slavery. I never
saw it; I never heard the whip; I never felt the check on my free speech
and action, until the other day, when Mr. Webster, by his personal
influence, brought the Fugitive Slave Law on the country. I say Mr.
Webster, for though the bill was not his, it is yet notorious that he
was the life and soul of it, that he gave it all he had. It cost him his
life, and under the shadow of his great name inferior men sheltered
themselves, threw their ballots for it, and made the law.... Nobody
doubts that Daniel Webster could make a good speech. Nobody doubts that
there were good and plausible things to be said on the part of the
South. But this is not a question of ingenuity, not a question of
syllogisms, but of sides. _How came he there_? ... But the question which
history will ask is broader. In the final hour when he was forced by the
peremptory necessity of the closing armies to take a side,--did he take
the part of great principles, the side of humanity and justice, or the
side of abuse, and oppression and chaos? ... He did as immoral men
usually do,--made very low bows to the Christian Church and went through
all the Sunday decorums, but when allusion was made to the question of
duty and the sanctions of morality, he very frankly said, at Albany,
'Some higher law, something existing somewhere between here and the
heaven--I do not know where.' And if the reporters say true, this
wretched atheism found some laughter in the company."

It was too late for Emerson to shine as a political debater. On May 14,
1857, Longfellow wrote in his diary, "It is rather painful to see
Emerson in the arena of politics, hissed and hooted at by young law
students." Emerson records a similar experience at a later date: "If I
were dumb, yet would I have gone and mowed and muttered or made signs.
The mob roared whenever I attempted to speak, and after several
beginnings I withdrew." There is nothing "painful" here: it is the
sublime exhibition of a great soul in bondage to circumstance.

The thing to be noted is that this is the same man, in the same state of
excitement about the same idea, who years before spoke out in The
American Scholar, in the Essays, and in the Lectures.

What was it that had aroused in Emerson such Promethean antagonism in
1837 but those same forces which in 1850 came to their culmination and
assumed visible shape in the person of Daniel Webster? The formal
victory of Webster drew Emerson into the arena, and made a dramatic
episode in his life. But his battle with those forces had begun thirteen
years earlier, when he threw down the gauntlet to them in his Phi Beta
Kappa oration. Emerson by his writings did more than any other man to
rescue the youth of the next generation and fit them for the fierce
times to follow. It will not be denied that he sent ten thousand sons to
the war.

In speaking of Emerson's attitude toward the anti-slavery cause, it has
been possible to dispense with any survey of that movement, because the
movement was simple and specific and is well remembered. But when we
come to analyze the relations he bore to some of the local agitations of
his day, it becomes necessary to weave in with the matter a discussion
of certain tendencies deeply imbedded in the life of his times, and of
which he himself was in a sense an outcome. In speaking of the
Transcendentalists, who were essentially the children of the Puritans,
we must begin with some study of the chief traits of Puritanism.

What parts the factors of climate, circumstance, and religion have
respectively played in the development of the New England character no
analysis can determine. We may trace the imaginary influence of a harsh
creed in the lines of the face. We may sometimes follow from generation
to generation the course of a truth which at first sustained the spirit
of man, till we see it petrify into a dogma which now kills the spirits
of men. Conscience may destroy the character. The tragedy of the New
England judge enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law was no new spectacle in
New England. A dogmatic crucifixion of the natural instincts had been in
progress there for two hundred years. Emerson, who is more free from
dogma than any other teacher that can be named, yet comes very near
being dogmatic in his reiteration of the Moral Law.

Whatever volume of Emerson we take up, the Moral Law holds the same
place in his thoughts. It is the one statable revelation of truth which
he is ready to stake his all upon. "The illusion that strikes me as the
masterpiece in that ring of illusions which our life is, is the timidity
with which we assert our moral sentiment. We are made of it, the world
is built by it, things endure as they share it; all beauty, all health,
all intelligence exist by it; yet we shrink to speak of it or range
ourselves by its side. Nay, we presume strength of him or them who deny
it. Cities go against it, the college goes against it, the courts snatch
any precedent at any vicious form of law to rule it out; legislatures
listen with appetite to declamations against it and vote it down."

With this very beautiful and striking passage no one will quarrel, nor
will any one misunderstand it.

The following passage has the same sort of poetical truth. "Things are
saturated with the moral law. There is no escape from it. Violets and
grass preach it; rain and snow, wind and tides, every change, every
cause in Nature is nothing but a disguised missionary." ...

But Emerson is not satisfied with metaphor. "We affirm that in all men
is this majestic perception and command; that it is the presence of the
eternal in each perishing man; that it distances and degrades all
statements of whatever saints, heroes, poets, as obscure and confused
stammerings before its silent revelation. _They_ report the truth. _It_
is the truth." In this last extract we have Emerson actually affirming
that his dogma of the Moral Law is Absolute Truth. He thinks it not
merely a form of truth, like the old theologies, but very
distinguishable from all other forms in the past.

Curiously enough, his statement of the law grows dogmatic and incisive
in proportion as he approaches the borderland between his law and the
natural instincts: "The last revelation of intellect and of sentiment is
that in a manner it severs the man from all other men; makes known to
him _that the spiritual powers are sufficient to him if no other being
existed_; that he is to deal absolutely in the world, as if he alone
were a system and a state, and though all should perish could make all
anew." Here we have the dogma applied, and we see in it only a new form
of old Calvinism as cruel as Calvinism, and not much different from its
original. The italics are not Emerson's, but are inserted to bring out
an idea which is everywhere prevalent in his teaching.

In this final form, the Moral Law, by insisting that sheer conscience
can slake the thirst that rises in the soul, is convicted of falsehood;
and this heartless falsehood is the same falsehood that has been put
into the porridge of every Puritan child for six generations. A grown
man can digest doctrine and sleep at night. But a young person of high
purpose and strong will, who takes such a lie as this half-truth and
feeds on it as on the bread of life, will suffer. It will injure the
action of his heart. Truly the fathers have eaten sour grapes, therefore
the children's teeth are set on edge.

       *       *       *       *       *

To understand the civilization of cities, we must look at the rural
population from which they draw their life. We have recently had our
attention called to the last remnants of that village life so reverently
gathered up by Miss Wilkins, and of which Miss Emily Dickinson was the
last authentic voice. The spirit of this age has examined with an almost
pathological interest this rescued society. We must go to it if we would
understand Emerson, who is the blossoming of its culture. We must study
it if we would arrive at any intelligent and general view of that
miscellaneous crop of individuals who have been called the

Between 1830 and 1840 there were already signs in New England that the
nutritive and reproductive forces of society were not quite wholesome,
not exactly well adjusted. Self-repression was the religion which had
been inherited. "Distrust Nature" was the motto written upon the front
of the temple. What would have happened to that society if left to
itself for another hundred years no man can guess. It was rescued by the
two great regenerators of mankind, new land and war. The dispersion
came, as Emerson said of the barbarian conquests of Rome, not a day too
soon. It happened that the country at large stood in need of New England
as much as New England stood in need of the country. This congested
virtue, in order to be saved, must be scattered. This ferment, in order
to be kept wholesome, must be used as leaven to leaven the whole lump.
"As you know," says Emerson in his Eulogy on Boston, "New England
supplies annually a large detachment of preachers and schoolmasters and
private tutors to the interior of the South and West.... We are willing
to see our sons emigrate, as to see our hives swarm. That is what they
were made to do, and what the land wants and invites."

For purposes of yeast, there was never such leaven as the Puritan stock.
How little the natural force of the race had really abated became
apparent when it was placed under healthy conditions, given land to
till, foes to fight, the chance to renew its youth like the eagle. But
during this period the relief had not yet come. The terrible pressure of
Puritanism and conservatism in New England was causing a revolt not only
of the Abolitionists, but of another class of people of a type not so
virile as they. The times have been smartly described by Lowell in his
essay on Thoreau:--

  "Every possible form of intellectual and physical dyspepsia brought
  forth its gospel. Bran had its prophets.... Everybody had a Mission
  (with a capital M) to attend to everybody else's business. No brain
  but had its private maggot, which must have found pitiably short
  commons sometimes. Not a few impecunious zealots abjured the use of
  money (unless earned by other people), professing to live on the
  internal revenues of the spirit. Some had an assurance of instant
  millennium so soon as hooks and eyes should be substituted for
  buttons. Communities were established where everything was to be
  common but common sense.... Conventions were held for every hitherto
  inconceivable purpose."

Whatever may be said of the Transcendentalists, it must not be forgotten
that they represented an elevation of feeling, which through them
qualified the next generation, and can be traced in the life of New
England to-day. The strong intrinsic character lodged in these recusants
was later made manifest; for many of them became the best citizens of
the commonwealth,--statesmen, merchants, soldiers, men and women of
affairs. They retained their idealism while becoming practical men.
There is hardly an example of what we should have thought would be
common in their later lives, namely, a reaction from so much ideal
effort, and a plunge into cynicism and malice, scoundrelism and the
flesh-pots. In their early life they resembled the Abolitionists in
their devotion to an idea; but with the Transcendentalists self-culture
and the aesthetic and sentimental education took the place of more
public aims. They seem also to have been persons of greater social
refinement than the Abolitionists.

The Transcendentalists were sure of only one thing,--that society as
constituted was all wrong. In this their main belief they were right.
They were men and women whose fundamental need was activity, contact
with real life, and the opportunity for social expansion; and they
keenly felt the chill and fictitious character of the reigning
conventionalities. The rigidity of behavior which at this time
characterized the Bostonians seemed sometimes ludicrous and sometimes
disagreeable to the foreign visitor. There was great gravity, together
with a certain pomp and dumbness, and these things were supposed to be
natural to the inhabitants and to give them joy. People are apt to
forget that such masks are never worn with ease. They result from the
application of an inflexible will, and always inflict discomfort. The
Transcendentalists found themselves all but stifled in a society as
artificial in its decorum as the court of France during the last years
of Louis XIV.

Emerson was in no way responsible for the movement, although he got the
credit of having evoked it by his teaching. He was elder brother to it,
and was generated by its parental forces; but even if Emerson had never
lived, the Transcendentalists would have appeared. He was their victim
rather than their cause. He was always tolerant of them and sometimes
amused at them, and disposed to treat them lightly. It is impossible to
analyze their case with more astuteness than he did in an editorial
letter in The Dial. The letter is cold, but is a masterpiece of good
sense. He had, he says, received fifteen letters on the Prospects of
Culture. "Excellent reasons have been shown us why the writers,
obviously persons of sincerity and elegance, should be dissatisfied with
the life they lead, and with their company.... They want a friend to
whom they can speak and from whom they may hear now and then a
reasonable word." After discussing one or two of their proposals,--one
of which was that the tiresome "uncles and aunts" of the enthusiasts
should be placed by themselves in one delightful village, the dough, as
Emerson says, be placed in one pan and the leaven in another,--he
continues: "But it would be unjust not to remind our younger friends
that whilst this aspiration has always made its mark in the lives of men
of thought, in vigorous individuals it does not remain a detached
object, but is satisfied along with the satisfaction of other aims."
Young Americans "are educated above the work of their times and country,
and disdain it. Many of the more acute minds pass into a lofty
criticism ... which only embitters their sensibility to the evil, and
widens the feeling of hostility between them and the citizens at
large.... We should not know where to find in literature any record of
so much unbalanced intellectuality, such undeniable apprehension without
talent, so much power without equal applicability, as our young men
pretend to.... The balance of mind and body will redress itself fast
enough. Superficialness is the real distemper.... It is certain that
speculation is no succedaneum for life." He then turns to find the cure
for these distempers in the farm lands of Illinois, at that time already
being fenced in "almost like New England itself," and closes with a
suggestion that so long as there is a woodpile in the yard, and the
"wrongs of the Indian, of the Negro, of the emigrant, remain
unmitigated," relief might be found even nearer home.

In his lecture on the Transcendentalists he says: "... But their
solitary and fastidious manners not only withdraw them from the
conversation, but from the labors of the world: they are not good
citizens, not good members of society; unwillingly they bear their part
of the public and private burdens; they do not willingly share in the
public charities, in the public religious rites, in the enterprises of
education, of missions foreign and domestic, in the abolition of the
slave-trade, or in the temperance society. They do not even like to
vote." A less sympathetic observer, Harriet Martineau, wrote of them:
"While Margaret Fuller and her adult pupils sat 'gorgeously dressed,'
talking about Mars and Venus, Plato and Goethe, and fancying themselves
the elect of the earth in intellect and refinement, the liberties of the
republic were running out as fast as they could go at a breach which
another sort of elect persons were devoting themselves to repair; and my
complaint against the 'gorgeous' pedants was that they regarded their
preservers as hewers of wood and drawers of water, and their work as a
less vital one than the pedantic orations which were spoiling a set of
well-meaning women in a pitiable way." Harriet Martineau, whose whole
work was practical, and who wrote her journal in 1855 and in the light
of history, was hardly able to do justice to these unpractical but
sincere spirits.

Emerson was divided from the Transcendentalists by his common sense. His
shrewd business intellect made short work of their schemes. Each one of
their social projects contained some covert economic weakness, which
always turned out to lie in an attack upon the integrity of the
individual, and which Emerson of all men could be counted on to detect.
He was divided from them also by the fact that he was a man of genius,
who had sought out and fought out his means of expression. He was a
great artist, and as such he was a complete being. No one could give to
him nor take from him. His yearnings found fruition in expression. He
was sure of his place and of his use in this world. But the
Transcendentalists were neither geniuses nor artists nor complete
beings. Nor had they found their places or uses as yet. They were men
and women seeking light. They walked in dry places, seeking rest and
finding none. The Transcendentalists are not collectively important
because their _Sturm und Drang_ was intellectual and bloodless. Though
Emerson admonish and Harriet Martineau condemn, yet from the memorials
that survive, one is more impressed with the sufferings than with the
ludicrousness of these persons. There is something distressing about
their letters, their talk, their memoirs, their interminable diaries.
They worry and contort and introspect. They rave and dream. They peep
and theorize. They cut open the bellows of life to see where the wind
comes from. Margaret Fuller analyzes Emerson, and Emerson Margaret
Fuller. It is not a wholesome ebullition of vitality. It is a nightmare,
in which the emotions, the terror, the agony, the rapture, are all
unreal, and have no vital content, no consequence in the world outside.
It is positively wonderful that so much excitement and so much suffering
should have left behind nothing in the field of art which is valuable.
All that intelligence could do toward solving problems for his friends
Emerson did. But there are situations in life in which the intelligence
is helpless, and in which something else, something perhaps possessed by
a ploughboy, is more divine than Plato.

If it were not pathetic, there would be something cruel--indeed there is
something cruel--in Emerson's incapacity to deal with Margaret Fuller.
He wrote to her on October 24, 1840: "My dear Margaret, I have your
frank and noble and affecting letter, and yet I think I could wish it
unwritten. I ought never to have suffered you to lead me into any
conversation or writing on our relation, a topic from which with all
persons my Genius warns me away."

The letter proceeds with unimpeachable emptiness and integrity in the
same strain. In 1841 he writes in his diary: "Strange, cold-warm,
attractive-repelling conversation with Margaret, whom I always admire,
most revere when I nearest see, and sometimes love; yet whom I freeze
and who freezes me to silence when we promise to come nearest."

Human sentiment was known to Emerson mainly in the form of pain. His
nature shunned it; he cast it off as quickly as possible. There is a
word or two in the essay on Love which seems to show that the inner and
diaphanous core of this seraph had once, but not for long, been shot
with blood: he recalls only the pain of it. His relations with Margaret
Fuller seem never normal, though they lasted for years. This brilliant
woman was in distress. She was asking for bread, and he was giving her a
stone, and neither of them was conscious of what was passing. This is
pitiful. It makes us clutch about us to catch hold, if we somehow may,
of the hand of a man.

There was manliness in Horace Greeley, under whom Miss Fuller worked on
the New York Tribune not many years afterward. She wrote: "Mr. Greeley I
like,--nay, more, love. He is in his habit a plebeian, in his heart a
nobleman. His abilities in his own way are great. He believes in mine
to a surprising degree. We are true friends."

This anæmic incompleteness of Emerson's character can be traced to the
philosophy of his race; at least it can be followed in that philosophy.
There is an implication of a fundamental falsehood in every bit of
Transcendentalism, including Emerson. That falsehood consists in the
theory of the self-sufficiency of each individual, men and women alike.
Margaret Fuller is a good example of the effect of this philosophy,
because her history afterward showed that she was constituted like other
human beings, was dependent upon human relationship, and was not only a
very noble, but also a very womanly creature. Her marriage, her Italian
life, and her tragic death light up with the splendor of reality the
earlier and unhappy period of her life. This woman had been driven into
her vagaries by the lack of something which she did not know existed,
and which she sought blindly in metaphysics. Harriet Martineau writes of
her: "It is the most grievous loss I have almost ever known in private
history, the deferring of Margaret Fuller's married life so long. That
noble last period of her life is happily on record as well as the
earlier." The hardy Englishwoman has here laid a kind human hand on the
weakness of New England, and seems to be unconscious that she is making
a revelation as to the whole Transcendental movement. But the point is
this: there was no one within reach of Margaret Fuller, in her early
days, who knew what was her need. One offered her Kant, one Comte, one
Fourier, one Swedenborg, one the Moral Law. You cannot feed the heart on
these things.

Yet there is a bright side to this New England spirit, which seems, if
we look only to the graver emotions, so dry, dismal, and deficient. A
bright and cheery courage appears in certain natures of which the sun
has made conquest, that almost reconciles us to all loss, so splendid is
the outcome. The practical, dominant, insuppressible active temperaments
who have a word for every emergency, and who carry the controlled force
of ten men at their disposal, are the fruits of this same spirit.
Emerson knew not tears, but he and the hundred other beaming and
competent characters which New England has produced make us almost envy
their state. They give us again the old Stoics at their best.

Very closely connected with this subject--the crisp and cheery New
England temperament--lies another which any discussion of Emerson must
bring up,--namely, Asceticism. It is probable that in dealing with
Emerson's feelings about the plastic arts we have to do with what is
really the inside, or metaphysical side, of the same phenomena which
present themselves on the outside, or physical side, in the shape of

Emerson's natural asceticism is revealed to us in almost every form in
which history can record a man. It is in his philosophy, in his style,
in his conduct, and in his appearance. It was, however, not in his
voice. Mr. Cabot, with that reverence for which every one must feel
personally grateful to him, has preserved a description of Emerson by
the New York journalist, N.P. Willis: "It is a voice with shoulders in
it, which he has not; with lungs in it far larger than his; with a walk
which the public never see; with a fist in it which his own hand never
gave him the model for; and with a gentleman in it which his parochial
and 'bare-necessaries-of-life' sort of exterior gives no other betrayal
of. We can imagine nothing in nature (which seems too to have a type for
everything) like the want of correspondence between the Emerson that
goes in at the eye and the Emerson that goes in at the ear. A heavy and
vase-like blossom of a magnolia, with fragrance enough to perfume a
whole wilderness, which should be lifted by a whirlwind and dropped into
a branch of aspen, would not seem more as if it could never have grown
there than Emerson's voice seems inspired and foreign to his visible and
natural body." Emerson's ever exquisite and wonderful good taste seems
closely connected with this asceticism, and it is probable that his
taste influenced his views and conduct to some small extent.

The anti-slavery people were not always refined. They were constantly
doing things which were tactically very effective, but were not
calculated to attract the over-sensitive. Garrison's rampant and
impersonal egotism was good politics, but bad taste. Wendell Phillips
did not hesitate upon occasion to deal in personalities of an
exasperating kind. One sees a certain shrinking in Emerson from the
taste of the Abolitionists. It was not merely their doctrines or their
methods which offended him. He at one time refused to give Wendell
Phillips his hand because of Phillips's treatment of his friend, Judge
Hoar. One hardly knows whether to be pleased at Emerson for showing a
human weakness, or annoyed at him for not being more of a man. The
anecdote is valuable in both lights. It is like a tiny speck on the
crystal of his character which shows us the exact location of the orb,
and it is the best illustration of the feeling of the times which has
come down to us.

If by "asceticism" we mean an experiment in starving the senses, there
is little harm in it. Nature will soon reassert her dominion, and very
likely our perceptions will be sharpened by the trial. But "natural
asceticism" is a thing hardly to be distinguished from functional
weakness. What is natural asceticism but a lack of vigor? Does it not
tend to close the avenues between the soul and the universe? "Is it not
so much death?" The accounts of Emerson show him to have been a man in
whom there was almost a hiatus between the senses and the most inward
spirit of life. The lower register of sensations and emotions which
domesticate a man into fellowship with common life was weak. Genial
familiarity was to him impossible; laughter was almost a pain. "It is
not the sea and poverty and pursuit that separate us. Here is Alcott by
my door,--yet is the union more profound? No! the sea, vocation,
poverty, are seeming fences, but man is insular and cannot be touched.
Every man is an infinitely repellent orb, and holds his individual being
on that condition.... Most of the persons whom I see in my own house I
see across a gulf; I cannot go to them nor they come to me."

This aloofness of Emerson must be remembered only as blended with his
benignity. "His friends were all that knew him," and, as Dr. Holmes
said, "his smile was the well-remembered line of Terence written out in
living features." Emerson's journals show the difficulty of his
intercourse even with himself. He could not reach himself at will, nor
could another reach him. The sensuous and ready contact with nature
which more carnal people enjoy was unknown to him. He had eyes for the
New England landscape, but for no other scenery. If there is one supreme
sensation reserved for man, it is the vision of Venice seen from the
water. This sight greeted Emerson at the age of thirty. The famous city,
as he approached it by boat, "looked for some time like nothing but New
York. It is a great oddity, a city for beavers, but to my thought a most
disagreeable residence. You feel always in prison and solitary. It is as
if you were always at sea. I soon had enough of it."

Emerson's contempt for travel and for the "rococo toy," Italy, is too
well known to need citation. It proceeds from the same deficiency of
sensation. His eyes saw nothing; his ears heard nothing. He believed
that men travelled for distraction and to kill time. The most vulgar
plutocrat could not be blinder to beauty nor bring home less from Athens
than this cultivated saint. Everything in the world which must be felt
with a glow in the breast, in order to be understood, was to him
dead-letter. Art was a name to him; music was a name to him; love was a
name to him. His essay on Love is a nice compilation of compliments and
elegant phrases ending up with some icy morality. It seems very well
fitted for a gift-book or an old-fashioned lady's annual.

"The lovers delight in endearments, in avowals of love, in comparisons
of their regards.... The soul which is in the soul of each, craving a
perfect beatitude, detects incongruities, defects, and disproportion in
the behavior of the other. Hence arise surprise, expostulation, and
pain. Yet that which drew them to each other was signs of loveliness,
signs of virtue; and these virtues are there, however eclipsed. They
appear and reappear and continue to attract; but the regard changes,
quits the sign and attaches to the substance. This repairs the wounded
affection. Meantime, as life wears on, it proves a game of permutation
and combination of all possible positions of the parties, to employ all
the resources of each, and acquaint each with the weakness of the
other.... At last they discover that all which at first drew them
together--those once sacred features, that magical play of charms--was
deciduous, had a prospective end like the scaffolding by which the house
was built, and the purification of the intellect and the heart from year
to year is the real marriage, foreseen and prepared from the first, and
wholly above their consciousness.... Thus are we put in training for a
love which knows not sex nor person nor partiality, but which seeks
wisdom and virtue everywhere, to the end of increasing virtue and
wisdom.... There are moments when the affections rule and absorb the
man, and make his happiness dependent on a person or persons. But in
health the mind is presently seen again," etc.

All this is not love, but the merest literary coquetry. Love is
different from this. Lady Burton, when a very young girl, and six years
before her engagement, met Burton at Boulogne. They met in the street,
but did not speak. A few days later they were formally introduced at a
dance. Of this she writes: "That was a night of nights. He waltzed with
me once, and spoke to me several times. I kept the sash where he put his
arm around me and my gloves, and never wore them again."

A glance at what Emerson says about marriage shows that he suspected
that institution. He can hardly speak of it without some sort of caveat
or precaution. "Though the stuff of tragedy and of romances is in a
moral union of two superior persons whose confidence in each other for
long years, out of sight and in sight, and against all appearances, is
at last justified by victorious proof of probity to gods and men,
causing joyful emotions, tears, and glory,--though there be for heroes
this _moral union_, yet they too are as far as ever from, an
intellectual union, and the moral is for low and external purposes, like
the corporation of a ship's company or of a fire club." In speaking of
modern novels, he says: "There is no new element, no power, no
furtherance. 'Tis only confectionery, not the raising of new corn. Great
is the poverty of their inventions. _She was beautiful, and he fell in
love_.... Happy will that house be in which the relations are formed by
character; after the highest and not after the lowest; the house in
which character marries and not confusion and a miscellany of
unavowable motives.... To each occurs soon after puberty, some event, or
society or way of living, which becomes the crisis of life and the chief
fact in their history. In women it is love and marriage (which is more
reasonable), and yet it is pitiful to date and measure all the facts and
sequel of an unfolding life from such a youthful and generally
inconsiderate period as the age of courtship and marriage.... Women more
than all are the element and kingdom of illusion. Being fascinated they
fascinate. They see through Claude Lorraines. And how dare any one, if
he could, pluck away the coulisses, stage effects and ceremonies by
which they live? Too pathetic, too pitiable, is the region of affection,
and its atmosphere always liable to mirage."

We are all so concerned that a man who writes about love shall tell the
truth that if he chance to start from premises which are false or
mistaken, his conclusions will appear not merely false, but offensive.
It makes no matter how exalted the personal character of the writer may
be. Neither sanctity nor intellect nor moral enthusiasm, though they be
intensified to the point of incandescence, can make up for a want of

This perpetual splitting up of love into two species, one of which is
condemned, but admitted to be useful--is it not degrading? There is in
Emerson's theory of the relation between the sexes neither good sense,
nor manly feeling, nor sound psychology. It is founded on none of these
things. It is a pure piece of dogmatism, and reminds us that he was bred
to the priesthood. We are not to imagine that there was in this doctrine
anything peculiar to Emerson. But we are surprised to find the pessimism
inherent in the doctrine overcome Emerson, to whom pessimism is foreign.
Both doctrine and pessimism are a part of the Puritanism of the times.
They show a society in which the intellect had long been used to analyze
the affections, in which the head had become dislocated from the body.
To this disintegration of the simple passion of love may be traced the
lack of maternal tenderness characteristic of the New England nature.
The relation between the blood and the brain was not quite normal in
this civilization, nor in Emerson, who is its most remarkable

If we take two steps backward from the canvas of this mortal life and
glance at it impartially, we shall see that these matters of love and
marriage pass like a pivot through the lives of almost every individual,
and are, sociologically speaking, the _primum mobile_ of the world. The
books of any philosopher who slurs them or distorts them will hold up a
false mirror to life. If an inhabitant of another planet should visit
the earth, he would receive, on the whole, a truer notion of human life
by attending an Italian opera than he would by reading Emerson's
volumes. He would learn from the Italian opera that there were two
sexes; and this, after all, is probably the fact with which the
education of such a stranger ought to begin.

In a review of Emerson's personal character and opinions, we are thus
led to see that his philosophy, which finds no room for the emotions, is
a faithful exponent of his own and of the New England temperament, which
distrusts and dreads the emotions. Regarded as a sole guide to life for
a young person of strong conscience and undeveloped affections, his
works might conceivably be even harmful because of their unexampled
power of purely intellectual stimulation.

       *       *       *       *       *

Emerson's poetry has given rise to much heart-burning and disagreement.
Some people do not like it. They fail to find the fire in the ice. On
the other hand, his poems appeal not only to a large number of
professed lovers of poetry, but also to a class of readers who find in
Emerson an element for which they search the rest of poesy in vain.

It is the irony of fate that his admirers should be more than usually
sensitive about his fame. This prophet who desired not to have
followers, lest he too should become a cult and a convention, and whose
main thesis throughout life was that piety is a crime, has been calmly
canonized and embalmed in amber by the very forces he braved. He is
become a tradition and a sacred relic. You must speak of him under your
breath, and you may not laugh near his shrine.

Emerson's passion for nature was not like the passion of Keats or of
Burns, of Coleridge or of Robert Browning; compared with these men he is
cold. His temperature is below blood-heat, and his volume of poems
stands on the shelf of English poets like the icy fish which in Caliban
upon Setebos is described as finding himself thrust into the warm ooze
of an ocean not his own.

But Emerson is a poet, nevertheless, a very extraordinary and rare man
of genius, whose verses carry a world of their own within them. They are
overshadowed by the greatness of his prose, but they are authentic. He
is the chief poet of that school of which Emily Dickinson is a minor
poet. His poetry is a successful spiritual deliverance of great
interest. His worship of the New England landscape amounts to a
religion. His poems do that most wonderful thing, make us feel that we
are alone in the fields and with the trees,--not English fields nor
French lanes, but New England meadows and uplands. There is no human
creature in sight, not even Emerson is there, but the wind and the
flowers, the wild birds, the fences, the transparent atmosphere, the
breath of nature. There is a deep and true relation between the
intellectual and almost dry brilliancy of Emerson's feelings and the
landscape itself. Here is no defective English poet, no Shelley without
the charm, but an American poet, a New England poet with two hundred
years of New England culture and New England landscape in him.

People are forever speculating upon what will last, what posterity will
approve, and some people believe that Emerson's poetry will outlive his
prose. The question is idle. The poems are alive now, and they may or
may not survive the race whose spirit they embody; but one thing is
plain: they have qualities which have preserved poetry in the past. They
are utterly indigenous and sincere. They are short. They represent a
civilization and a climate.

His verse divides itself into several classes. We have the single
lyrics, written somewhat in the style of the later seventeenth century.
Of these The Humble Bee is the most exquisite, and although its tone and
imagery can be traced to various well-known and dainty bits of poetry,
it is by no means an imitation, but a masterpiece of fine taste. The
Rhodora and Terminus and perhaps a few others belong to that class of
poetry which, like Abou Ben Adhem, is poetry because it is the
perfection of statement. The Boston Hymn, the Concord Ode, and the other
occasional pieces fall in another class, and do not seem to be
important. The first two lines of the Ode,

    "O tenderly the haughty day
    Fills his blue urn with fire."

are for their extraordinary beauty worthy of some mythical Greek, some
Simonides, some Sappho, but the rest of the lines are commonplace.
Throughout his poems there are good bits, happy and golden lines,
snatches of grace. He himself knew the quality of his poetry, and wrote
of it,

    "All were sifted through and through,
    Five lines lasted sound and true."

He is never merely conventional, and his poetry, like his prose, is
homespun and sound. But his ear was defective: his rhymes are crude, and
his verse is often lame and unmusical, a fault which can be
countervailed by nothing but force, and force he lacks. To say that his
ear was defective is hardly strong enough. Passages are not uncommon
which hurt the reader and unfit him to proceed; as, for example:--

    "Thorough a thousand voices
      Spoke the universal dame:
    'Who telleth one of my meanings
      Is master of all I am.'"

He himself has very well described the impression his verse is apt to
make on a new reader when he says,--

  "Poetry must not freeze, but flow."

The lovers of Emerson's poems freely acknowledge all these defects, but
find in them another element, very subtle and rare, very refined and
elusive, if not altogether unique. This is the mystical element or
strain which qualifies many of his poems, and to which some of them are
wholly devoted.

There has been so much discussion as to Emerson's relation to the
mystics that it is well here to turn aside for a moment and consider
the matter by itself. The elusiveness of "mysticism" arises out of the
fact that it is not a creed, but a state of mind. It is formulated into
no dogmas, but, in so far as it is communicable, it is conveyed, or
sought to be conveyed, by symbols. These symbols to a sceptical or an
unsympathetic person will say nothing, but the presumption among those
who are inclined towards the cult is that if these symbols convey
anything at all, that thing is mysticism. The mystics are right. The
familiar phrases, terms, and symbols of mysticism are not meaningless,
and a glance at them shows that they do tend to express and evoke a
somewhat definite psychic condition.

There is a certain mood of mind experienced by most of us in which we
feel the mystery of existence; in which our consciousness seems to
become suddenly separated from our thoughts, and we find ourselves
asking, "Who am I? What are these thoughts?" The mood is very apt to
overtake us while engaged in the commonest acts. In health it is always
momentary, and seems to coincide with the instant of the transition and
shift of our attention from one thing to another. It is probably
connected with the transfer of energy from one set of faculties to
another set, which occurs, for instance, on our waking from sleep, on
our hearing a bell at night, on our observing any common object, a chair
or a pitcher, at a time when our mind is or has just been thoroughly
preoccupied with something else. This displacement of the attention
occurs in its most notable form when we walk from the study into the
open fields. Nature then attacks us on all sides at once, overwhelms,
drowns, and destroys our old thoughts, stimulates vaguely and all at
once a thousand new ideas, dissipates all focus of thought and dissolves
our attention. If we happen to be mentally fatigued, and we take a walk
in the country, a sense of immense relief, of rest and joy, which
nothing else on earth can give, accompanies this distraction of the mind
from its problems. The reaction fills us with a sense of mystery and
expansion. It brings us to the threshold of those spiritual experiences
which are the obscure core and reality of our existence, ever alive
within us, but generally veiled and sub-conscious. It brings us, as it
were, into the ante-chamber of art, poetry, and music. The condition is
one of excitation and receptiveness, where art may speak and we shall
understand. On the other hand, the condition shows a certain
dethronement of the will and attention which may ally it to the
hypnotic state.

Certain kinds of poetry imitate this method of nature by calling on us
with a thousand voices at once. Poetry deals often with vague or
contradictory statements, with a jumble of images, a throng of
impressions. But in true poetry the psychology of real life is closely
followed. The mysticism is momentary. We are not kept suspended in a
limbo, "trembling like a guilty thing surprised," but are ushered into
another world of thought and feeling. On the other hand, a mere
statement of inconceivable things is the _reductio ad absurdum_ of
poetry, because such a statement puzzles the mind, scatters the
attention, and does to a certain extent superinduce the "blank
misgivings" of mysticism. It does this, however, _without_ going further
and filling the mind with new life. If I bid a man follow my reasoning
closely, and then say, "I am the slayer and the slain, I am the doubter
and the doubt," I puzzle his mind, and may succeed in reawakening in him
the sense he has often had come over him that we are ignorant of our own
destinies and cannot grasp the meaning of life. If I do this, nothing
can be a more legitimate opening for a poem, for it is an opening of the
reader's mind. Emerson, like many other highly organized persons, was
acquainted with the mystic mood. It was not momentary with him. It
haunted him, and he seems to have believed that the whole of poetry and
religion was contained in the mood. And no one can gainsay that this
mental condition is intimately connected with our highest feelings and
leads directly into them.

The fault with Emerson is that he stops in the ante-chamber of poetry.
He is content if he has brought us to the hypnotic point. His prologue
and overture are excellent, but where is the argument? Where is the
substantial artistic content that shall feed our souls?

The Sphinx is a fair example of an Emerson poem. The opening verses are
musical, though they are handicapped by a reminiscence of the German way
of writing. In the succeeding verses we are lapped into a charming
reverie, and then at the end suddenly jolted by the question, "What is
it all about?" In this poem we see expanded into four or five pages of
verse an experience which in real life endures an eighth of a second,
and when we come to the end of the mood we are at the end of the poem.

There is no question that the power to throw your sitter into a
receptive mood by a pass or two which shall give you his virgin
attention is necessary to any artist. Nobody has the knack of this more
strongly than Emerson in his prose writings. By a phrase or a common
remark he creates an ideal atmosphere in which his thought has the
directness of great poetry. But he cannot do it in verse. He seeks in
his verse to do the very thing which he avoids doing in his prose:
follow a logical method. He seems to know too much what he is about, and
to be content with doing too little. His mystical poems, from the point
of view of such criticism as this, are all alike in that they all seek
to do the same thing. Nor does he always succeed. How does he sometimes
fail in verse to say what he conveys with such everlasting happiness in

    "I am owner of the sphere,
    Of the seven stars and the solar year,
    Of Cæsar's hand and Plato's brain,
    Of Lord Christ's heart and Shakespeare's strain."

In these lines we have the same thought which appears a few pages later
in prose: "All that Shakespeare says of the king, yonder slip of a boy
that reads in the corner feels to be true of himself." He has failed in
the verse because he has thrown a mystical gloss over a thought which
was stronger in its simplicity; because in the verse he states an
abstraction instead of giving an instance. The same failure follows him
sometimes in prose when he is too conscious of his machinery.

Emerson knew that the sense of mystery accompanies the shift of an
absorbed attention to some object which brings the mind back to the
present. "There are times when the cawing of a crow, a weed, a
snowflake, a boy's willow whistle, or a farmer planting in his field is
more suggestive to the mind than the Yosemite gorge or the Vatican would
be in another hour. In like mood, an old verse, or certain words, gleam
with rare significance." At the close of his essay on History he is
trying to make us feel that all history, in so far as we can know it, is
within ourselves, and is in a certain sense autobiography. He is
speaking of the Romans, and he suddenly pretends to see a lizard on the
wall, and proceeds to wonder what the lizard has to do with the Romans.
For this he has been quite properly laughed at by Dr. Holmes, because he
has resorted to an artifice and has failed to create an illusion.
Indeed, Dr. Holmes is somewhere so irreverent as to remark that a gill
of alcohol will bring on a psychical state very similar to that
suggested by Emerson; and Dr. Holmes is accurately happy in his jest,
because alcohol does dislocate the attention in a thoroughly mystical

There is throughout Emerson's poetry, as throughout all of the New
England poetry, too much thought, too much argument. Some of his verse
gives the reader a very curious and subtle impression that the lines are
a translation. This is because he is closely following a thesis. Indeed,
the lines are a translation. They were thought first, and poetry
afterwards. Read off his poetry, and you see through the scheme of it at
once. Read his prose, and you will be put to it to make out the
connection of ideas. The reason is that in the poetry the sequence is
intellectual, in the prose the sequence is emotional. It is no mere
epigram to say that his poetry is governed by the ordinary laws of prose
writing, and his prose by the laws of poetry.

The lines entitled Days have a dramatic vigor, a mystery, and a music
all their own:--

    "Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
    Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
    And marching single in an endless file,
    Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
    To each they offer gifts after his will,
    Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
    I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
    Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
    Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
    Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
    Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn."

The prose version of these lines, which in this case is inferior, is to
be found in Works and Days: "He only is rich who owns the day.... They
come and go like muffled and veiled figures, sent from a distant
friendly party; but they say nothing, and if we do not use the gifts
they bring, they carry them as silently away."

That Emerson had within him the soul of a poet no one will question, but
his poems are expressed in prose forms. There are passages in his early
addresses which can be matched in English only by bits from Sir Thomas
Browne or Milton, or from the great poets. Heine might have written the
following parable into verse, but it could not have been finer. It comes
from the very bottom of Emerson's nature. It is his uttermost. Infancy
and manhood and old age, the first and the last of him, speak in it.

  "Every god is there sitting in his sphere. The young mortal enters
  the hall of the firmament; there is he alone with them alone, they
  pouring on him benedictions and gifts, and beckoning him up to
  their thrones. On the instant, and incessantly, fall snowstorms of
  illusions. He fancies himself in a vast crowd which sways this way
  and that, and whose movements and doings he must obey; he fancies
  himself poor, orphaned, insignificant. The mad crowd drives hither
  and thither, now furiously commanding this thing to be done, now
  that. What is he that he should resist their will, and think or act
  for himself? Every moment new changes and new showers of deceptions
  to baffle and distract him. And when, by and by, for an instant, the
  air clears and the cloud lifts a little, there are the gods still
  sitting around him on their thrones,--they alone with him alone."

With the war closes the colonial period of our history, and with the end
of the war begins our national life. Before that time it was not
possible for any man to speak for the nation, however much he might long
to, for there was no nation; there were only discordant provinces held
together by the exercise on the part of each of a strong and
conscientious will. It is too much to expect that national character
shall be expressed before it is developed, or that the arts shall
flourish during a period when everybody is preoccupied with the fear of
revolution. The provincial note which runs through all our literature
down to the war resulted in one sense from our dependence upon Europe.
"All American manners, language, and writings," says Emerson, "are
derivative. We do not write from facts, but we wish to state the facts
after the English manner. It is the tax we pay for the splendid
inheritance of English Literature." But in a deeper sense this very
dependence upon Europe was due to our disunion among ourselves. The
equivocal and unhappy self-assertive patriotism to which we were
consigned by fate, and which made us perceive and resent the
condescension of foreigners, was the logical outcome of our political

The literature of the Northern States before the war, although full of
talent, lacks body, lacks courage. It has not a full national tone. The
South is not in it. New England's share in this literature is so large
that small injustice will be done if we give her credit for all of it.
She was the Academy of the land, and her scholars were our authors. The
country at large has sometimes been annoyed at the self-consciousness of
New England, at the atmosphere of clique, of mutual admiration, of
isolation, in which all her scholars, except Emerson, have lived, and
which notably enveloped the last little distinguished group of them. The
circumstances which led to the isolation of Lowell, Holmes, Longfellow,
and the Saturday Club fraternity are instructive. The ravages of the war
carried off the poets, scholars, and philosophers of the generation
which immediately followed these men, and by destroying their natural
successors left them standing magnified beyond their natural size, like
a grove of trees left by a fire. The war did more than kill off a
generation of scholars who would have succeeded these older scholars. It
emptied the universities by calling all the survivors into the field of
practical life; and after the war ensued a period during which all the
learning of the land was lodged in the heads of these older worthies who
had made their mark long before. A certain complacency which piqued the
country at large was seen in these men. An ante-bellum colonial posing,
inevitable in their own day, survived with them. When Jared Sparks put
Washington in the proper attitude for greatness by correcting his
spelling, Sparks was in cue with the times. It was thought that a great
man must have his hat handed to him by his biographer, and be ushered on
with decency toward posterity. In the lives and letters of some of our
recent public men there has been a reminiscence of this posing, which we
condemn as absurd because we forget it is merely archaic. Provincial
manners are always a little formal, and the pomposity of the colonial
governor was never quite worked out of our literary men.

Let us not disparage the past. We are all grateful for the New England
culture, and especially for the little group of men in Cambridge and
Boston who did their best according to the light of their day. Their
purpose and taste did all that high ideals and good taste can do, and no
more eminent literati have lived during this century. They gave the
country songs, narrative poems, odes, epigrams, essays, novels. They
chose their models well, and drew their materials from decent and likely
sources. They lived stainless lives, and died in their professors'
chairs honored by all men. For achievements of this sort we need hardly
use as strong language as Emerson does in describing contemporary
literature: "It exhibits a vast carcass of tradition every year with as
much solemnity as a new revelation."

The mass and volume of literature must always be traditional, and the
secondary writers of the world do nevertheless perform a function of
infinite consequence in the spread of thought. A very large amount of
first-hand thinking is not comprehensible to the average man until it
has been distilled and is fifty years old. The men who welcome new
learning as it arrives are the picked men, the minor poets of the next
age. To their own times these secondary men often seem great because
they are recognized and understood at once. We know the disadvantage
under which these Humanists of ours worked. The shadow of the time in
which they wrote hangs over us still. The conservatism and timidity of
our politics and of our literature to-day are due in part to that
fearful pressure which for sixty years was never lifted from the souls
of Americans. That conservatism and timidity may be seen in all our
past. They are in the rhetoric of Webster and in the style of Hawthorne.
They killed Poe. They created Bryant.

Since the close of our most blessed war, we have been left to face the
problems of democracy, unhampered by the terrible complications of
sectional strife. It has happened, however, that some of the tendencies
of our commercial civilization go toward strengthening and riveting upon
us the very traits encouraged by provincial disunion. Wendell Phillips,
with a cool grasp of understanding for which he is not generally given
credit, states the case as follows:--

  "The general judgment is that the freest possible government
  produces the freest possible men and women, the most individual, the
  least servile to the judgment of others. But a moment's reflection
  will show any man that this is an unreasonable expectation, and
  that, on the contrary, entire equality and freedom in political
  forms almost invariably tend to make the individual subside into the
  mass and lose his identity in the general whole. Suppose we stood in
  England to-night. There is the nobility, and here is the church.
  There is the trading class, and here is the literary. A broad gulf
  separates the four; and provided a member of either can conciliate
  his own section, he can afford in a very large measure to despise
  the opinions of the other three. He has to some extent a refuge and
  a breakwater against the tyranny of what we call public opinion. But
  in a country like ours, of absolute democratic equality, public
  opinion is not only omnipotent, it is omnipresent. There is no
  refuge from its tyranny, there is no hiding from its reach; and the
  result is that if you take the old Greek lantern and go about to
  seek among a hundred, you will find not one single American who has
  not, or who does not fancy at least that he has, something to gain
  or lose in his ambition, his social life, or his business, from the
  good opinion and the votes of those around him. And the consequence
  is that instead of being a mass of individuals, each one fearlessly
  blurting out his own convictions, as a nation, compared to other
  nations, we are a mass of cowards. More than all other people, we
  are afraid of each other."

If we take a bird's-eye view of our history, we shall find that this
constant element of democratic pressure has always been so strong a
factor in moulding the character of our citizens, that there is less
difference than we could wish to see between the types of citizenship
produced before the war and after the war.

Charles Pollen, that excellent and worthy German who came to this
country while still a young man and who lived in the midst of the social
and intellectual life of Boston, felt the want of intellectual freedom
in the people about him. If one were obliged to describe the America of
to-day in a single sentence, one could hardly do it better than by a
sentence from a letter of Follen to Harriet Martineau written in 1837,
after the appearance of one of her books: "You have pointed out the two
most striking national characteristics, 'Deficiency of individual moral
independence and extraordinary mutual respect and kindness.'"

Much of what Emerson wrote about the United States in 1850 is true of
the United States to-day. It would be hard to find a civilized people
who are more timid, more cowed in spirit, more illiberal, than we. It is
easy to-day for the educated man who has read Bryce and Tocqueville to
account for the mediocrity of American literature. The merit of Emerson
was that he felt the atmospheric pressure without knowing its reason. He
felt he was a cabined, cribbed, confined creature, although every man
about him was celebrating Liberty and Democracy, and every day was
Fourth of July. He taxes language to its limits in order to express his
revolt. He says that no man should write except what he has discovered
in the process of satisfying his own curiosity, and that every man will
write well in proportion as he has contempt for the public.

Emerson seems really to have believed that if any man would only
resolutely be himself, he would turn out to be as great as Shakespeare.
He will not have it that anything of value can be monopolized. His
review of the world, whether under the title of Manners, Self-Reliance,
Fate, Experience, or what-not, leads him to the same thought. His
conclusion is always the finding of eloquence, courage, art, intellect,
in the breast of the humblest reader. He knows that we are full of
genius and surrounded by genius, and that we have only to throw
something off, not to acquire any new thing, in order to be bards,
prophets, Napoleons, and Goethes. This belief is the secret of his
stimulating power. It is this which gives his writings a radiance like
that which shone from his personality.

The deep truth shadowed forth by Emerson when he said that "all the
American geniuses lacked nerve and dagger" was illustrated by our best
scholar. Lowell had the soul of the Yankee, but in his habits of writing
he continued English tradition. His literary essays are full of charm.
The Commemoration Ode is the high-water mark of the attempt to do the
impossible. It is a fine thing, but it is imitative and secondary. It
has paid the inheritance tax. Twice, however, at a crisis of pressure,
Lowell assumed his real self under the guise of a pseudonym; and with
his own hand he rescued a language, a type, a whole era of civilization
from oblivion. Here gleams the dagger and here is Lowell revealed. His
limitations as a poet, his too much wit, his too much morality, his
mixture of shrewdness and religion, are seen to be the very elements of
power. The novelty of the Biglow Papers is as wonderful as their
world-old naturalness. They take rank with greatness, and they were the
strongest political tracts of their time. They imitate nothing; they are

Emerson himself was the only man of his times who consistently and
utterly expressed himself, never measuring himself for a moment with the
ideals of others, never troubling himself for a moment with what
literature was or how literature should be created. The other men of his
epoch, and among whom he lived, believed that literature was a very
desirable article, a thing you could create if you were only smart
enough. But Emerson had no literary ambition. He cared nothing for
belles-lettres. The consequence is that he stands above his age like a
colossus. While he lived his figure could be seen from Europe towering
like Atlas over the culture of the United States.

Great men are not always like wax which their age imprints. They are
often the mere negation and opposite of their age. They give it the lie.
They become by revolt the very essence of all the age is not, and that
part of the spirit which is suppressed in ten thousand breasts gets
lodged, isolated, and breaks into utterance in one. Through Emerson
spoke the fractional spirits of a multitude. He had not time, he had not
energy left over to understand himself; he was a mouthpiece.

If a soul be taken and crushed by democracy till it utter a cry, that
cry will be Emerson. The region of thought he lived in, the figures of
speech he uses, are of an intellectual plane so high that the
circumstances which produced them may be forgotten; they are
indifferent. The Constitution, Slavery, the War itself, are seen as mere
circumstances. They did not confuse him while he lived; they are not
necessary to support his work now that it is finished. Hence comes it
that Emerson is one of the world's voices. He was heard afar off. His
foreign influence might deserve a chapter by itself. Conservatism is not
confined to this country. It is the very basis of all government. The
bolts Emerson forged, his thought, his wit, his perception, are not
provincial. They were found to carry inspiration to England and
Germany. Many of the important men of the last half-century owe him a
debt. It is not yet possible to give any account of his influence
abroad, because the memoirs which will show it are only beginning to be
published. We shall have them in due time; for Emerson was an outcome of
the world's progress. His appearance marks the turning-point in the
history of that enthusiasm for pure democracy which has tinged the
political thought of the world for the past one hundred and fifty years.
The youths of England and Germany may have been surprised at hearing
from America a piercing voice of protest against the very influences
which were crushing them at home. They could not realize that the chief
difference between Europe and America is a difference in the rate of
speed with which revolutions in thought are worked out.

While the radicals of Europe were revolting in 1848 against the abuses
of a tyranny whose roots were in feudalism, Emerson, the great radical
of America, the arch-radical of the world, was revolting against the
evils whose roots were in universal suffrage. By showing the identity in
essence of all tyranny, and by bringing back the attention of political
thinkers to its starting-point, the value of human character, he has
advanced the political thought of the world by one step. He has pointed
out for us in this country to what end our efforts must be bent.

       *       *       *       *       *

                         WALT WHITMAN

It would be an ill turn for an essay-writer to destroy Walt
Whitman,--for he was discovered by the essayists, and but for them his
notoriety would have been postponed for fifty years. He is the mare's
nest of "American Literature," and scarce a contributor to The Saturday
Review but has at one time or another raised a flag over him.

The history of these chronic discoveries of Whitman as a poet, as a
force, as a something or a somebody, would write up into the best
possible monograph on the incompetency of the Anglo-Saxon in matters of

English literature is the literature of genius, and the Englishman is
the great creator. His work outshines the genius of Greece. His wealth
outvalues the combined wealth of all modern Europe. The English mind is
the only unconscious mind the world has ever seen. And for this reason
the English mind is incapable of criticism. There has never been an
English critic of the first rank, hardly a critic of any rank; and the
critical work of England consists either of an academical bandying of a
few old canons and shibboleths out of Horace or Aristotle, or else of
the merest impressionism, and wordy struggle to convey the sentiment
awakened by the thing studied.

Now, true criticism means an attempt to find out what something is, not
for the purpose of judging it, or of imitating it, nor for the purpose
of illustrating something else, nor for any other ulterior purpose

The so-called canons of criticism are of about as much service to a
student of literature as the Nicene Creed and the Lord's Prayer are to
the student of church history. They are a part of his subject, of
course, but if he insists upon using them as a tape measure and a
divining-rod he will produce a judgment of no possible value to any one,
and interesting only as a record of a most complex state of mind.

The educated gentlemen of England have surveyed literature with these
time-honored old instruments, and hordes of them long ago rushed to
America with their theodolites and their quadrants in their hands. They
sized us up and they sized us down, and they never could find greatness
in literature among us till Walt Whitman appeared and satisfied the

Here was a comet, a man of the people, a new man, who spoke no known
language, who was very uncouth and insulting, who proclaimed himself a
"barbaric yawp," and who corresponded to the English imagination with
the unpleasant and rampant wildness of everything in America,--with
Mormonism and car factories, steamboat explosions, strikes, repudiation,
and whiskey; whose form violated every one of their minor canons as
America violated every one of their social ideas.

Then, too, Whitman arose out of the war, as Shakespeare arose out of the
destruction of the Armada, as the Greek poets arose out of the repulse
of the Persians. It was impossible, it was unprecedented, that a
national revulsion should not produce national poetry--and lo! here was

It may safely be said that the discovery of Whitman as a poet caused
many a hard-thinking Oxford man to sleep quietly at night. America was

The Englishman travels, but he travels after his mind has been burnished
by the university, and at an age when the best he can do in the line of
thought is to make an intelligent manipulation of the few notions he
leaves home with. He departs an educated gentleman, taking with him his
portmanteau and his ideas. He returns a travelled gentleman, bringing
with him his ideas and his portmanteau. He would as soon think of
getting his coats from Kansas as his thoughts from travel. And therefore
every impression of America which the travelling Englishman experienced
confirmed his theory of Whitman. Even Rudyard Kipling, who does not in
any sense fall under the above description, has enough Anglo-Saxon blood
in him to see in this country only the fulfilment of the fantastic
notions of his childhood.

But imagine an Oxford man who had eyes in his head, and who should come
to this country, never having heard of Whitman. He would see an
industrious and narrow-minded population, commonplace and monotonous, so
uniform that one man can hardly be distinguished from another,
law-abiding, timid, and traditional; a community where the individual is
suppressed by law, custom, and instinct, and in which, by consequence,
there are few or no great men, even counting those men thrust by
necessary operation of the laws of trade into commercial prominence,
and who claim scientific rather than personal notice.

The culture of this people, its architecture, letters, drama, etc., he
would find were, of necessity, drawn from European models; and in its
poetry, so far as poetry existed, he would recognize a somewhat feeble
imitation of English poetry. The newspaper verses very fairly represent
the average talent for poetry and average appreciation of it, and the
newspaper verse of the United States is precisely what one would expect
from a decorous and unimaginative population,--intelligent,
conservative, and uninspired.

Above the newspaper versifiers float the minor poets, and above these
soar the greater poets; and the characteristics of the whole hierarchy
are the same as those of the humblest acolyte,--intelligence,
conservatism, conventional morality.

Above the atmosphere they live in, above the heads of all the American
poets, and between them and the sky, float the Constitution of the
United States and the traditions and forms of English literature.

This whole culture is secondary and tertiary, and it truly represents
the respectable mediocrity from which it emanates. Whittier and
Longfellow have been much read in their day,--read by mill-hands and
clerks and school-teachers, by lawyers and doctors and divines, by the
reading classes of the republic, whose ideals they truly spoke for,
whose yearnings and spiritual life they truly expressed.

Now, the Oxford traveller would not have found Whitman at all. He would
never have met a man who had heard of him, nor seen a man like him.

The traveller, as he opened his Saturday Review upon his return to
London, and read the current essay on Whitman, would have been faced by
a problem fit to puzzle Montesquieu, a problem to floor Goethe.

And yet Whitman is representative. He is a real product, he has a real
and most interesting place in the history of literature, and he speaks
for a class and type of human nature whose interest is more than local,
whose prevalence is admitted,--a type which is one of the products of
the civilization of the century, perhaps of all centuries, and which has
a positively planetary significance.

There are, in every country, individuals who, after a sincere attempt to
take a place in organized society, revolt from the drudgery of it,
content themselves with the simplest satisfactions of the grossest need
of nature, so far as subsistence is concerned, and rediscover the
infinite pleasures of life in the open air.

If the roadside, the sky, the distant town, the soft buffeting of the
winds of heaven, are a joy to the aesthetic part of man, the freedom
from all responsibility and accountability is Nirvana to his moral
nature. A man who has once tasted these two joys together, the joy of
being in the open air and the joy of being disreputable and unashamed,
has touched an experience which the most close-knit and determined
nature might well dread. Life has no terrors for such a man. Society has
no hold on him. The trifling inconveniences of the mode of life are as
nothing compared with its satisfactions. The worm that never dies is
dead in him. The great mystery of consciousness and of effort is quietly
dissolved into the vacant happiness of sensation,--not base sensation,
but the sensation of the dawn and the sunset, of the mart and the
theatre, and the stars, the panorama of the universe.

To the moral man, to the philosopher or the business man, to any one who
is a cog in the wheel of some republic, all these things exist for the
sake of something else. He must explain or make use of them, or define
his relation to them. He spends the whole agony of his existence in an
endeavor to docket them and deal with them. Hampered as he is by all
that has been said and done before, he yet feels himself driven on to
summarize, and wreak himself upon the impossible task of grasping this
cosmos with his mind, of holding it in his hand, of subordinating it to
his purpose.

The tramp is freed from all this. By an act as simple as death, he has
put off effort and lives in peace.

It is no wonder that every country in Europe shows myriads of these men,
as it shows myriads of suicides annually. It is no wonder, though the
sociologists have been late in noting it, that specimens of the type are
strikingly identical in feature in every country of the globe.

The habits, the physique, the tone of mind, even the sign-language and
some of the catch-words, of tramps are the same everywhere. The men are
not natally outcasts. They have always tried civilized life. Their early
training, at least their early attitude of mind towards life, has
generally been respectable. That they should be criminally inclined
goes without saying, because their minds have been freed from the
sanctions which enforce law. But their general innocence is, under the
circumstances, very remarkable, and distinguishes them from the criminal

When we see one of these men sitting on a gate, or sauntering down a
city street, how often have we wondered how life appeared to him; what
solace and what problems it presented. How often have we longed to know
the history of such a soul, told, not by the police-blotter, but by the
poet or novelist in the heart of the man!

Walt Whitman has given utterance to the soul of the tramp. A man of
genius has passed sincerely and normally through this entire experience,
himself unconscious of what he was, and has left a record of it to
enlighten and bewilder the literary world.

In Whitman's works the elemental parts of a man's mind and the fragments
of imperfect education may be seen merging together, floating and
sinking in a sea of insensate egotism and rhapsody, repellent, divine,
disgusting, extraordinary.

Our inability to place the man intellectually, and find a type and
reason for his intellectual state, comes from this: that the revolt he
represents is not an intellectual revolt. Ideas are not at the bottom of
it. It is a revolt from drudgery. It is the revolt of laziness.

There is no intellectual coherence in his talk, but merely pathological
coherence. Can the insulting jumble of ignorance and effrontery, of
scientific phrase and French paraphrase, of slang and inspired
adjective, which he puts forward with the pretence that it represents
thought, be regarded, from any possible point of view, as a philosophy,
or a system, or a belief? Is it individualism of any statable kind? Do
the thoughts and phrases which float about in it have a meaning which
bears any relation to the meaning they bear in the language of thinkers?
Certainly not. Does all the patriotic talk, the talk about the United
States and its future, have any significance as patriotism? Does it
poetically represent the state of feeling of any class of American
citizens towards their country? Or would you find the nearest equivalent
to this emotion in the breast of the educated tramp of France, or
Germany, or England? The speech of Whitman is English, and his metaphors
and catch-words are apparently American, but the emotional content is
cosmic. He put off patriotism when he took to the road.

The attraction exercised by his writings is due to their flashes of
reality. Of course the man was a poseur, a most horrid mountebank and
ego-maniac. His tawdry scraps of misused idea, of literary smartness, of
dog-eared and greasy reminiscence, repel us. The world of men remained
for him as his audience, and he did to civilized society the continuous
compliment of an insane self-consciousness in its presence.

Perhaps this egotism and posturing is the revenge of a stilled
conscience, and we ought to read in it the inversion of the social
instincts. Perhaps all tramps are poseurs. But there is this to be said
for Whitman, that whether or not his posing was an accident of a
personal nature, or an organic result of his life, he was himself an
authentic creature. He did not sit in a study and throw off his saga of
balderdash, but he lived a life, and it is by his authenticity, and not
by his poses, that he has survived.

The descriptions of nature, the visual observation of life, are
first-hand and wonderful. It was no false light that led the Oxonians to
call some of his phrases Homeric. The pundits were right in their
curiosity over him; they went astray only in their attempt at

It is a pity that truth and beauty turn to cant on the second delivery,
for it makes poetry, as a profession, impossible. The lyric poets have
always spent most of their time in trying to write lyric poetry, and the
very attempt disqualifies them.

A poet who discovers his mission is already half done for; and even
Wordsworth, great genius though he was, succeeded in half drowning his
talents in his parochial theories, in his own self-consciousness and

Walt Whitman thought he had a mission. He was a professional poet. He
had purposes and theories about poetry which he started out to enforce
and illustrate. He is as didactic as Wordsworth, and is thinking of
himself the whole time. He belonged, moreover, to that class of
professionals who are always particularly self-centred, autocratic,
vain, and florid,--the class of quacks. There are, throughout society,
men, and they are generally men of unusual natural powers, who, after
gaining a little unassimilated education, launch out for themselves and
set up as authorities on their own account. They are, perhaps, the
successors of the old astrologers, in that what they seek to establish
is some personal professorship or predominance. The old occultism and
mystery was resorted to as the most obvious device for increasing the
personal importance of the magician; and the chief difference to-day
between a regular physician and a quack is, that the quack pretends to
know it all.

Brigham Young and Joseph Smith were men of phenomenal capacity, who
actually invented a religion and created a community by the apparent
establishment of supernatural and occult powers. The phrenologists, the
venders of patent medicine, the Christian Scientists, the single-taxers,
and all who proclaim panaceas and nostrums make the same majestic and
pontifical appeal to human nature. It is this mystical power, this
religious element, which floats them, sells the drugs, cures the sick,
and packs the meetings.

By temperament and education Walt Whitman was fitted to be a prophet of
this kind. He became a quack poet, and hampered his talents by the
imposition of a monstrous parade of rattletrap theories and professions.
If he had not been endowed with a perfectly marvellous capacity, a
wealth of nature beyond the reach and plumb of his rodomontade, he
would have been ruined from the start. As it is, he has filled his work
with grimace and vulgarity. He writes a few lines of epic directness and
cyclopean vigor and naturalness, and then obtrudes himself and his

He has the bad taste bred in the bone of all missionaries and palmists,
the sign-manual of a true quack. This bad taste is nothing more than the
offensive intrusion of himself and his mission into the matter in hand.
As for his real merits and his true mission, too much can hardly be said
in his favor. The field of his experience was narrow, and not in the
least intellectual. It was narrow because of his isolation from human
life. A poet like Browning, or Heine, or Alfred de Musset deals
constantly with the problems and struggles that arise in civilized life
out of the close relationships, the ties, the duties and desires of the
human heart. He explains life on its social side. He gives us some more
or less coherent view of an infinitely complicated matter. He is a
guide-book or a note-book, a highly trained and intelligent companion.

Walt Whitman has no interest in any of these things. He was fortunately
so very ignorant and untrained that his mind was utterly incoherent and
unintellectual. His mind seems to be submerged and to have become almost
a part of his body. The utter lack of concentration which resulted from
living his whole life in the open air has left him spontaneous and
unaccountable. And the great value of his work is, that it represents
the spontaneous and unaccountable functioning of the mind and body in

It is doubtful whether a man ever enjoyed life more intensely than Walt
Whitman, or expressed the physical joy of mere living more completely.
He is robust, all tingling with health and the sensations of health. All
that is best in his poetry is the expression of bodily well-being.

A man who leaves his office and gets into a canoe on a Canadian river,
sure of ten days' release from the cares of business and housekeeping,
has a thrill of joy such as Walt Whitman has here and there thrown into
his poetry. One might say that to have done this is the greatest
accomplishment in literature. Walt Whitman, in some of his lines, breaks
the frame of poetry and gives us life in the throb.

It is the throb of the whole physical system of a man who breathes the
open air and feels the sky over him. "When lilacs last in the dooryard
bloomed" is a great lyric. Here is a whole poem without a trace of
self-consciousness. It is little more than a description of nature. The
allusions to Lincoln and to the funeral are but a word or two--merest
suggestions of the tragedy. But grief, overwhelming grief, is in every
line of it, the grief which has been transmuted into this sensitiveness
to the landscape, to the song of the thrush, to the lilac's bloom, and
the sunset.

Here is truth to life of the kind to be found in King Lear or Guy
Mannering, in Æschylus or Burns.

Walt Whitman himself could not have told you why the poem was good. Had
he had any intimation of the true reason, he would have spoiled the
poem. The recurrence and antiphony of the thrush, the lilac, the thought
of death, the beauty of nature, are in a balance and dream of natural
symmetry such as no cunning could come at, no conscious art could do
other than spoil.

It is ungrateful to note Whitman's limitations, his lack of human
passion, the falseness of many of his notions about the American people.
The man knew the world merely as an observer, he was never a living part
of it, and no mere observer can understand the life about him. Even his
work during the war was mainly the work of an observer, and his poems
and notes upon the period are picturesque. As to his talk about comrades
and Manhattanese car-drivers, and brass-founders displaying their brawny
arms round each other's brawny necks, all this gush and sentiment in
Whitman's poetry is false to life. It has a lyrical value, as
representing Whitman's personal feelings, but no one else in the country
was ever found who felt or acted like this.

In fact, in all that concerns the human relations Walt Whitman is as
unreal as, let us say, William Morris, and the American mechanic would
probably prefer Sigurd the Volsung, and understand it better than
Whitman's poetry.

This falseness to the sentiment of the American is interwoven with such
wonderful descriptions of American sights and scenery, of ferryboats,
thoroughfares, cataracts, and machine-shops that it is not strange the
foreigners should have accepted the gospel.

On the whole, Whitman, though he solves none of the problems of life and
throws no light on American civilization, is a delightful appearance,
and a strange creature to come out of our beehive. This man committed
every unpardonable sin against our conventions, and his whole life was
an outrage. He was neither chaste, nor industrious, nor religious. He
patiently lived upon cold pie and tramped the earth in triumph.

He did really live the life he liked to live, in defiance of all men,
and this is a great desert, a most stirring merit. And he gave, in his
writings, a true picture of himself and of that life,--a picture which
the world had never seen before, and which it is probable the world will
not soon cease to wonder at.

       *       *       *       *       *

                        A STUDY OF ROMEO

The plays of Shakespeare marshal themselves in the beyond. They stand in
a place outside of our deduction. Their cosmos is greater than our
philosophy. They are like the forces of nature and the operations of
life in the vivid world about us. We may measure our intellectual growth
by the new horizons we see opening within them. So long as they continue
to live and change, to expand and deepen, to be filled with new harmony
and new suggestion, we may rest content; we are still growing. At the
moment we think we have comprehended them, at the moment we see them as
stationary things, we may be sure something is wrong; we are beginning
to petrify. Our fresh interest in life has been arrested. There is,
therefore, danger in an attempt to "size up" Shakespeare. We cannot help
setting down as a coxcomb any man who has done it to his own
satisfaction. He has pigeon-holed himself. He will not get lost. If you
want him, you can lay your hand on him. He has written an autobiography.
He has "sized up" himself.

In writing about Shakespeare, it is excusable to put off the armor of
criticism, and speak in a fragmentary and inconclusive manner, lest by
giving way to conviction, by encouraging ourselves into positive
beliefs, we hasten the inevitable and grow old before our time.

Perhaps some such apology is needed to introduce the observations on the
character of Romeo which are here thrown together, and the remarks about
the play itself, the acting, and the text.

It is believed by some scholars that in the second quarto edition of
Romeo and Juliet, published in 1599, Shakespeare's revising hand can be
seen, and that the differences between the first and second editions
show the amendments, additions, and corrections with which Shakespeare
saw fit to embellish his work in preparing it for the press. If this
were actually the case; if we could lay the two texts on the table
before us, convinced that one of them was Shakespeare's draft or acting
copy, and the other Shakespeare's finished work; and if, by comparing
the two, we could enter into the workshop and forge of his mind,--it
would seem as if we had at last found an avenue of approach towards this
great personality, this intellect the most powerful that has ever
illumined human life. No other literary inquiry could compare in
interest with such a study as this; for the relation which Shakespeare
himself bore to the plays he created is one of the mysteries and blank
places in history, a gap that staggers the mind and which imagination
cannot overleap.

The student who examines both texts will be apt to conclude that the
second is by no means a revised edition of the first, but that
(according to another theory) the first is a pirated edition of the
play, stolen by the printer, and probably obtained by means of a
reporter who took down the lines as they were spoken on the stage. The
stage directions in the first edition are not properly the stage
directions of a dramatist as to what should be done on the stage, but
seem rather the records of an eye-witness as to what he saw happen on
the stage. The mistakes of the reporter (or the perversions of the
actors) as seen in the first edition generally injure the play; and it
was from this circumstance--the frequency of blotches in the first
edition--that the idea gained currency that the second edition was an
example of Shakespeare's never-failing tact in bettering his own lines.

Perhaps, after all, it would little advance our understanding of the
plays, or solve the essential puzzle,--that they actually had an
author,--if we could follow every stroke of his revising pen. We should
observe, no doubt, refinement of characterization, changes of stage
effect, the addition of flourishes and beauties; but their origin and
true meaning, the secret of their life, would be as safe as it is at
present, as securely lost in the midst of all this demonstration as the
manuscripts themselves were in the destruction of the Globe Theatre.

If we must then abandon the hope of seeing Shakespeare in his workshop,
we may, nevertheless, obtain from the pirated text some notion of the
manner in which Shakespeare was staged in his own day, and of how he
fared at the hands of the early actors. Romeo and Juliet is an
exceptionally difficult play to act, and the difficulties seem to have
been about the same in Shakespeare's time as they are to-day. They are,
in fact, inherent in the structure of the work itself.

As artists advance in life, they develop, by growing familiar with the
conditions of their art, the power of concealing its limitations,--a
faculty in which even the greatest artists are often deficient in their
early years. There is an anecdote of Schumann which somewhat crudely
illustrates this. It is said that in one of his early symphonies he
introduced a passage leading up to a climax, at which the horns were to
take up the aria in triumph. At the rehearsal, when the moment came for
the horns to trumpet forth their message of victory, there was heard a
sort of smothered braying which made everybody laugh. The composer had
arranged his climax so that it fell upon a note which the horns could
not sound except with closed stops. The passage had to be rewritten. The
young painter is frequently found struggling with subjects, with effects
of light, which are almost impossible to render, and which perhaps an
older man would not attempt. It is not surprising to find among the
early works of Shakespeare that some of the characters, however true to
life,--nay, because true to life,--are almost impossible to be
represented on the stage. Certainly Romeo presents us with a character
of the kind.

Shakespeare's knowledge of human nature seems to have antedated his
knowledge of the stage. In imagining the character of Romeo, a character
to fit the plot of the old story, he took little thought for his actors.
In conjuring up the probabilities which would lead a man into such a
course of conduct as Romeo's, Shakespeare had in his mind the
probabilities and facts in real life rather than the probabilities
demanded by the stage.

Romeo must be a man almost wholly made up of emotion, a creature very
young, a lyric poet in the intensity of his sensations, a child in his
helplessness beneath the ever-varying currents and whirlpools of his
feeling. He lives in a walking and frenzied dream, comes in contact with
real life only to injure himself and others, and finally drives with the
collected energy of his being into voluntary shipwreck upon the rocks of
the world.

This man must fall in love at first sight. He must marry clandestinely.
He must be banished for having taken part in a street fight, and must
return to slay himself upon the tomb of his beloved.

Shakespeare, with his passion for realism, devotes several scenes at the
opening of the play to the explanation of Romeo's state of mind. He will
give us a rationalistic account of love at first sight by bringing on
this young poet in a blind chaos of emotion owing to his rejection by a
woman not otherwise connected with the story. It is perfectly true that
this is the best and perhaps the only explanation of love at first
sight. The effect upon Romeo's very boyish, unreal, and almost
unpleasant lovesickness of the rejection (for which we must always
respect Rosaline) is to throw him, and all the unstable elements of
which he is made, into a giddy whirl, which, after a day or two, it will
require only the glance of a pair of eyes to precipitate into the very
elixir of true love.

All this is true, but no audience cares about the episode or requires
the explanation. Indeed, it jars upon the sentimental notion of many
persons to this day, and in many stage versions it is avoided.

These preparatory scenes bring out in a most subtle way the egoism at
the basis of Romeo's character,--the same lyrical egoism that is in all
his language and in all his conduct. When we first see Romeo, he is
already in an uneasy dream. He is wandering, aloof from his friends and
absorbed in himself. On meeting Juliet he passes from his first dream
into a second dream. On learning of the death of Juliet he passes into
still a third and quite different dream,--or stage of dream,--a stage in
which action is necessary, and in which he displays the calculating
intellect of a maniac. The mental abstraction of Romeo continues even
after he has met Juliet. In Capulet's garden, despite the directness of
Juliet, he is still in his reveries. The sacred wonder of the hour turns
all his thoughts, not into love, but into poetry. Juliet's anxieties are
practical. She asks him about his safety, how he came there, how he
expects to escape. He answers in madrigals. His musings are almost
impersonal. The power of the moonlight is over him, and the power of the
scene, of which Juliet is only a part.

    "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls;
    For stony limits cannot hold love out,
    And what love can do that dares love attempt;
    Therefore thy kinsmen are no let to me.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear
    That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops--

           *       *       *       *       *

    It is my soul that calls upon my name:
    How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night,
    Like softest music to attending ears."

These reflections are almost "asides." They ought hardly to be spoken
aloud. They denote that Romeo is still in his trance. They have,
however, another and unfortunate influence: they retard the action of
the play. As we read the play to ourselves, this accompaniment of
lyrical feeling on Romeo's part does not interfere with our enjoyment.
It seems to accentuate the more direct and human strain of Juliet's

But on the stage the actor who plays Romeo requires the very highest
powers. While speaking at a distance from Juliet, and in a constrained
position, he must by his voice and gestures convey these subtlest shades
of feeling, throw these garlands of verse into his talk without
interrupting its naturalness, give all the "asides" in such a manner
that the audience feels they are in place, even as the reader does. It
is no wonder that the rôle of Romeo is one of the most difficult in all
Shakespeare. The demands made upon the stage are almost more than the
stage can meet. The truth to nature is of a kind that the stage is
almost powerless to render.

The character of Romeo cannot hope to be popular. Such pure passion,
such unreasonable giving way, is not easily forgiven in a man. He must
roll on the floor and blubber and kick. There is no getting away from
this. He is not Romeo unless he cries like a baby or a Greek hero. This
is the penalty for being a lyric poet. Had he used his mind more upon
the problems of his love, and less upon its celebration in petalled
phrases, his mind would not have deserted him so lamentably in the hour
of his need. In fact, throughout the play, Romeo, by the exigencies of
the plot, is in fair danger of becoming contemptible. For one instant
only does he rise into respectability,--at the moment of his quarrel
with Tybalt. At this crisis he is stung into life by the death of
Mercutio, and acts like a man. The ranting manner in which it is
customary to give Romeo's words in this passage of the play shows how
far most actors are from understanding the true purport of the lines;
how far from realizing that these few lines are the only opportunity the
actor has of establishing the character of Romeo as a gentleman, a man
of sense and courage, a formidable fellow, not unfit to be the hero of a

    "Alive, in triumph! and Mercutio slain!
    Away to heaven, respective lenity,
    And fire-ey'd fury be my conduct now!
    Now, Tybalt, take the 'villain' back again
    That late thou gay'st me;--for Mercutio's soul
    Is but a little way above our heads,
    Staying for thine to keep him company:
    Either thou, or I, or both, must go with him."

The first three lines are spoken by Romeo to himself. They are a
reflection, not a declamation,--a reflection upon which he instantly
acts. He assumes the calmness of a man of his rank who is about to
fight. More than this, Romeo, the man of words and moods, when once
roused, as we shall see later, in a worser cause,--when once pledged to
action,--Romeo shines with a sort of fatalistic spiritual power. He is
now visibly dedicated to this quarrel. We feel sure that he will kill
Tybalt in the encounter. The appeal to the supernatural is in his very
gesture. The audience--nay, Tybalt himself--gazes with awe on this
sudden apparition of Romeo as a man of action.

This highly satisfactory conduct is soon swept away by his behavior on
hearing the news of his banishment. The boy seems to be without much
stamina, after all. He is a pitiable object, and does not deserve the
love of fair lady.

At Mantua the tide of his feelings has turned again, and by one of those
natural reactions which he himself takes note of he wakes up
unaccountably happy, "and all this day an unaccustom'd spirit lifts him
above the ground with cheerful thoughts." It is the lightning before the

    "Her body sleeps to Capel's monument,
    And her immortal part with angels lives.
    I saw her laid low in her kindred's vault,
    And presently took post to tell it you."

Balthasar makes no attempt to break the news gently. The blow descends
on Romeo when he least expects it. He is not spared. The conduct of
Romeo on hearing of Juliet's death is so close to nature as to be nature
itself, yet it happens to be conduct almost impossible to be given on
the stage. _He does nothing._ He is stunned. He collapses. For fully
five minutes he does not speak, and yet in these five minutes he must
show to the audience that his nature has been shaken to its foundations.
The delirium of miraculously beautiful poetry is broken. His words are
gone. His emotion is paralyzed, but his mind is alert. He seems suddenly
to be grown up,--a man, and not a boy,--and a man of action. "Is it even
so?" is all he says. He orders post-horses, ink and paper, in a few
rapid sentences; it is evident that before speaking at all he has
determined what he will do, and from now on to the end of the play Romeo
is different from his old self, for a new Romeo has appeared. He is in a
state of intense and calm exultation. All his fluctuating emotions have
been stilled or stunned. He gives his orders in staccato. We feel that
he knows what he is going to do, and will certainly accomplish it.
Meanwhile his mind is dominant. It is preternaturally active. His
"asides," which before were lyrical, now become the comments of an acute
intellect. His vivid and microscopic recollection of the apothecary
shop, his philosophical bantering with the apothecary, his sudden
violence to Balthasar at the entrance to the tomb, and his as sudden
friendliness, his words and conflict with Paris, whom he kills
incidentally, absent-mindedly, and, as it were, with his left hand,
without malice and without remorse,--all these things show an intellect
working at high pressure, while the spirit of the man is absorbed in
another and more important matter.

There is a certain state of mind in which the will to do is so soon
followed by the act itself that one may say the act is automatic. The
thought has already begun to be executed even while it is being formed.
This occurs especially where the intent is to do some horrid deed which
requires preparation, firmness of purpose, ingenuity, and, above all,
external calmness.

    "Between the acting of a dreadful thing
    And the first motion, all the interim is
    Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream.
    The genius and the mortal instruments
    Are then in council; and the state of man,
    Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
    The nature of an insurrection."

This is the phase through which Romeo is passing on the way from Mantua
to Verona. His own words give us a picture of him during that ride:--

    "What said my man when my betossed soul
    Did not attend him as we rode?"

He has come like an arrow, his mind closed to the external world,
himself in the blind clutch of his own deadly purpose, driving on
towards its fulfilment. Only at the end, when he stands before the bier
of Juliet, sure of his will, beyond the reach of hindrance, alone for
the first time,--only then is his spirit released in floods of
eloquence; then does his triumphant purpose break into speech, and his
words soar up like the flames of a great bonfire of precious incense
streaming upward in exultation and in happiness.

The whole course of these last scenes of Romeo's life, which are
scarcely longer than this description of them, is in the highest degree
naturalistic; but the scenes are in the nature of things so difficult to
present on the stage as to be fairly impossible. The very long, the very
minute description of the apothecary's shop, given by a man whose heart
has stopped beating, but whose mind is at work more actively and more
accurately than it has ever worked before, is a thing highly sane as to
its words. It must be done quietly, rapidly, and yet the impression must
be created, which is created upon Balthasar, that Romeo is not in his
right mind. A friend seeing him would cross the street to ask what was
the matter.

The whole character of Romeo, from the beginning, has been imagined with
reference to this self-destroying consummation. From his first speech we
might have suspected that something destructive would come out of this

There is a type of highly organized being, not well fitted for this
world, whose practical activities are drowned in a sea of feeling.
Egoists by their constitution, they become dangerous beings when vexed,
cornered, or thwarted by society. Their fine energies have had no
training in the painful constructive processes of civilization. Their
first instincts, when goaded into activity, are instincts of
destruction. They know no compromise. If they are not to have all, then
no one shall possess anything. Romeo is not suffering in this final
scene. He is experiencing the greatest pleasure of his life. He glories
in his deed. It satisfies his soul. It gives him supreme spiritual
activity. The deed brings widespread desolation, but to this he is
indifferent, for it means the destruction of the prison against which
his desires have always beaten their wings, the destruction of a
material and social universe from which he has always longed to be free.

    "O, here
    Will I set up my everlasting rest,
    And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
    From this world-wearied flesh."

How much of all this psychology may we suppose was rendered apparent to
the motley collection of excitable people who flocked to see the
play--which appears to have been a popular one--in the years 1591-97?
Probably as much as may be gathered by an audience to-day from a
tolerable representation of the piece. The subtler truths of Shakespeare
have always been lost upon the stage. In turning over the first quarto
of Romeo and Juliet, we may see that many such matters were pruned
ruggedly off by the actors. The early audiences, like the popular
audiences of to-day, doubtless regarded action as the first merit of a
play, and the stage managers must have understood this. It is noticeable
that, in the authentic text, the street fight with which this play opens
is a carefully-worked-up scene, which comes to a climax in the entry of
the prince. The reporter gives a few words only to a description of the
scene. No doubt, in Shakespeare's time, the characters spoke very
rapidly or all at once. It is impossible that the longer plays, like
King Lear, should have been finished in an evening, unless the scenes
moved with a hurry of life very different from the declamatory leisure
with which our actors move from scene to scene. To make plain the course
of the story was evidently the chief aim of the stage managers. The
choruses are finger-posts. It is true that the choruses in Shakespeare
are generally so overloaded with curious ornament as to be
incomprehensible except as explanations of things already understood.
The prologue to Romeo and Juliet is a riddle to which the play is the
answer. One might at first suppose that the need of such finger-posts
betrayed a dull audience, but no dull person was ever enlightened by
Shakespeare's choruses. They play variations on the theme. They instruct
only the instructed.

If interest in the course of the story be the first excitement to the
theatre-goer, interest in seeing a picture of contemporary manners is
probably the second. Our chief loss in reading Shakespeare is the loss
of the society he depicts, and which we know only through him. In every
line and scene there must be meanings which have vanished forever with
the conditions on which they comment. A character on the stage has need,
at the feeblest, of only just so much vitality as will remind us of
something we know in real life. The types of Shakespeare which have been
found substantial enough to survive the loss of their originals must
have had an interest for the first audiences, both in nature and in
intensity, very different from their interest to us. The high life
depicted by Shakespeare has disappeared. No one of us has ever known a
Mercutio. Fortunately, the types of society seem to change less in the
lower orders than in the upper classes. England swarms with old women
like Juliet's nurse; and as to these characters in Shakespeare whose
originals still survive, and as to them only, we may feel that we are
near the Elizabethans.

We should undoubtedly suffer some disenchantment by coming in contact
with these coarse and violent people. How much do the pictures of
contemporary England given us by the novelists stand in need of
correction by a visit to the land! How different is the thing from the
abstract! Or, to put the same thought in a more obvious light, how
fantastic are the ideas of the Germans about Shakespeare! How Germanized
does he come forth from their libraries and from their green-rooms!

We in America, with our formal manners, our bloodless complexions, our
perpetual decorum and self-suppression, are about as much in sympathy
with the real element of Shakespeare's plays as a Baptist parson is with
a fox-hunt. Our blood is stirred by the narration, but our constitution
could never stand the reality. As we read we translate all things into
the dialect of our province; or if we must mouth, let us say that we
translate the dialect of the English province into the language of our
empire; but we still translate. Mercutio, on inspection, would turn out
to be not a gentleman,--and indeed he is not; Juliet, to be a most
extraordinary young person; Tybalt, a brute and ruffian, a type from the
plantation; and the only man with whom we should feel at all at ease
would be the County Paris, in whom we should all recognize a perfectly
bred man. "What a man!" we should cry. "Why, he's a man of wax!"

       *       *       *       *       *

                   MICHAEL ANGELO'S SONNETS

Michael Angelo is revealed by his sonnets. He wears the triple crown of
painter, poet, and sculptor, and his genius was worshipped with a kind
of awe even while he lived, yet we know the man best through these
little pieces of himself which he broke off and gave to his friends. The
fragments vibrated with the life of the man, and were recognized as
wonderful things. Even in his lifetime they were treasured and collected
in manuscript, and at a later day they were seized upon by the world at

The first published edition of the sonnets was prepared for the press
many years after the death of the author by his grandnephew, who edited
them to suit the taste of the seventeenth century. The extent and
atrocity of his emendations can be realized by a comparison of texts.
But the sonnets survived the improvements, and even made headway under
them; and when, in 1863, Guasti gave the original readings to the
public, the world was prepared for them. The bibliography of editions
and translations which Guasti gives is enough to show the popularity of
the sonnets, their universal character, their international currency.

There are upward of one hundred sonnets in every stage of perfection,
and they have given rise not only to a literature of translations, but
to a literature of comment. Some years ago Mrs. Ednah Cheney published a
selection of the sonnets, giving the Italian text, together with English
translations by various hands. This little volume has earned the
gratitude of many to whom it made known the sonnets. The Italians
themselves have gone on printing the corrupt text in contempt of
Guasti's labors. But it has not been left to the Italians to protect the
treasures of their land. The barbarians have been the devoutest
worshippers at all times. The last tribute has come from Mr. John
Addington Symonds, who has done the sonnets into the English of the
pre-Raphaelites, and done them, on the whole, amazingly well. His
translations of the more graceful sonnets are facile, apt, and charming,
and rise at times into beauty. He has, however, insisted on polishing
the rugged ones. Moreover, being deficient in reverence, Mr. Symonds
fails to convey reverence. Nevertheless, to have boldly planned and
carried out the task of translating them all was an undertaking of so
much courage, and has been done with so much success, that every rival
must give in his admiration.

The poems are exceedingly various, some being rough and some elegant,
some obvious and some obscure, some humorous, some religious. Yet they
have this in common, that each seems to be the bearer of some deep
harmony, whose vibrations we feel and whose truth we recognize. From the
very beginning they seem to have had a provocative and stimulating
effect upon others; ever since they were written, cultivated people have
been writing essays about them. One of them has been the subject of
repeated academical disquisition. They absorb and reflect the spirit of
the times; they appeal to and express the individual; they have done
this through three centuries and throughout who shall say how many
different educational conditions. Place them in what light you will,
they gleam with new meanings. This is their quality. It is hard to say
whence the vitality comes. They have often a brilliancy that springs
from the juxtaposition of two thoughts,--a brilliancy like that
produced by unblended colors roughly but well laid on. They have, as it
were, an organic force which nothing can render. The best of them have
the reflective power which gives back light from the mind of the reader.
The profounder ones appear to change and glow under contemplation; they
re-echo syllables from forgotten voices; they suggest unfathomable
depths of meaning. These sonnets are protean in character; they
represent different things to different people,--religion to one, love
to another, philosophy to a third.

It is easy to guess what must be the fate of such poems in translation.
The translator inevitably puts more of himself than of Michael Angelo
into his version. Even the first Italian editor could not let them
alone. He felt he must dose them with elegance. This itching to amend
the sonnets results largely from the obscurity of the text. A translator
is required to be, above all things, comprehensible, and, therefore, he
must interpret, he must paraphrase. He is not at liberty to retain the
equivocal suggestiveness of the original. The language of a translation
must be chastened, or, at least, grammatical, and Michael Angelo's verse
is very often neither the one nor the other.

The selections which follow are not given as representative of the
different styles in the original. They have been chosen from among those
sonnets which seemed most capable of being rendered into English.

The essential nature of the sonnet is replete with difficulty, and
special embarrassments are encountered in the Italian sonnet. The
Italian sonnet is, both in its form and spirit, a thing so foreign to
the English idea of what poetry should be, that no cultivation can ever
domesticate it into the tongue. The seeds of flowers from the Alps may
be planted in our gardens, but a new kind of flower will come up; and
this is what has happened over and over again to the skilled gardeners
of English literature in their struggles with the Italian sonnet. In
Italy, for six hundred years, the sonnet has been the authorized form
for a disconnected remark of any kind. Its chief aim is not so much to
express a feeling as an idea--a witticism--a conceit--a shrewd saying--a
clever analogy--a graceful simile--a beautiful thought. Moreover, it is
not primarily intended for the public; it has a social rather than a
literary function.

The English with their lyrical genius have impressed the form, as they
have impressed every other form, into lyrical service, and with some
success, it must be admitted. But the Italian sonnet is not lyrical. It
is conversational and intellectual, and many things which English
instinct declares poetry ought not to be. We feel throughout the poetry
of the Latin races a certain domination of the intelligence which is
foreign to our own poetry. But in the sonnet form at least we may
sympathize with this domination. Let us read the Italian sonnets, then,
as if they were prose; let us seek first the thought and hold to that,
and leave the eloquence to take care of itself. It is the thought, after
all, which Michael Angelo himself cared about. He is willing to
sacrifice elegance, to truncate words, to wreck rhyme, prosody, and
grammar, if he can only hurl through the verse these thoughts which were
his convictions.

The platonic ideas about life and love and art, which lie at the bottom
of most of these sonnets, are familiar to us all. They have been the
reigning commonplace ideas of educated people for the last two thousand
years. But in these sonnets they are touched with new power; they become
exalted into mystical importance. We feel almost as if it were Plato
himself that is talking, and the interest is not lessened when we
remember that it is Michael Angelo. It is necessary to touch on this
element in the sonnets, for it exists in them; and because while some
will feel chiefly the fiery soul of the man, others will be most struck
by his great speculative intellect.

It is certain that the sonnets date from various times in Michael
Angelo's life; and, except in a few cases, it must be left to the
instinct of the reader to place them. Those which were called forth by
the poet's friendship for Vittoria Colonna were undoubtedly written
towards the close of his life. While he seems to have known Vittoria
Colonna and to have been greatly attached to her for many years, it is
certain that in his old age he fell in love with her. The library of
romance that has been written about this attachment has added nothing to
Condivi's simple words:--

  "He greatly loved the Marchesana of Pescara, with whose divine
  spirit he fell in love, and was in return passionately beloved of
  her; and he still keeps many of her letters, which are full of most
  honest and tenderest love, such as used to issue from a heart like
  hers; and he himself had written her many and many a sonnet full of
  wit and tenderness. She often left Viterbo and other places, where
  she had gone for pleasure, and to pass the summer, and came to Rome
  for no other reason than to see Michael Angelo. And in return he
  bore her so much love that I remember hearing him say that he
  regretted nothing except that when he went to see her on her
  death-bed he had not kissed her brow and her cheek as he had kissed
  her hand. He was many times overwhelmed at the thought of her death,
  and used to be as one out of his mind."

It seems, from reading the sonnets, that some of those which are
addressed to women must belong to a period anterior to his friendship
with Vittoria. This appears from the internal evidence of style and
feeling, as well as by references in the later sonnets.

One other fact must be mentioned,--both Vittoria and Michael Angelo
belonged to, or at least sympathized with, the Piagnoni, and were in a
sense disciples of Savonarola. Now, it is this religious element which
makes Michael Angelo seem to step out of his country and out of his
century and across time and space into our own. This religious feeling
is of a kind perfectly familiar to us; indeed, of a kind inborn and
native to us. Whether we be reading the English prayer-book or listening
to the old German Passion Music, there is a certain note of the spirit
which, when we hear it, we perfectly recognize as a part of ourselves.
What we recognize is, in fact, the Protestantism which swept over Europe
during the century of Michael Angelo's existence; which conquered
Teutonic Europe, and was conquered, but not extinguished, in Latin
Europe; and a part of which survives in ourselves. If one wishes to feel
the power of Savonarola, one may do so in these sonnets. We had
connected Michael Angelo with the Renaissance, but we are here face to
face with the Reformation. We cannot help being a little surprised at
this. We cannot help being surprised at finding how well we know this

Few of us are familiar enough with the language of the plastic arts to
have seen without prompting this same modern element in Michael Angelo's
painting and sculpture. We might, perhaps, have recognized it in the
Pieta in St. Peter's. We may safely say, however, that it exists in all
his works. It is in the Medicean statues; it is in the Julian marbles;
it is in the Sistine ceiling. What is there in these figures that they
leave us so awestruck, that they seem so like the sound of trumpets
blowing from a spiritual world? The intelligence that could call them
forth, the craft that could draw them, have long since perished. But the
meaning survives the craft. The lost arts retain their power over us. We
understand but vaguely, yet we are thrilled. We cannot decipher the
signs, yet we subscribe to their import. The world from which Michael
Angelo's figures speak is our own world, after all. That is the reason
they are so potent, so intimate, so inimitably significant. We may be
sure that the affinity which we feel with Michael Angelo, and do not
feel with any other artist of that age, springs from experiences and
beliefs in him which are similar to our own.

His work speaks to the moral sense more directly and more powerfully
than that of any one,--so directly and so powerfully, indeed, that we
whose physical senses are dull, and whose moral sense is acute, are
moved by Michael Angelo, although the rest of the _cinque cento_ culture
remain a closed book to us.

It is difficult, this conjuring with the unrecoverable past, so rashly
done by us all. Yet we must use what light we have. Remembering, then,
that painting is not the reigning mode of expression in recent times,
and that in dealing with it we are dealing with a vehicle of expression
with which we are not spontaneously familiar, we may yet draw
conclusions which are not fantastic, if we base them upon the identity
of one man's nature some part of which we are sure we understand. We may
throw a bridge from the ground in the sonnets, upon which we are sure we
stand firmly, to the ground in the frescos, which, by reason of our own
ignorance, is less certain ground to us, and we may walk from one side
to the other amid the elemental forces of this same man's mind.


    Give me again, ye fountains and ye streams,
      That flood of life, not yours, that swells your front
      Beyond the natural fulness of your wont.
    I gave, and I take back as it beseems.
    And thou dense choking atmosphere on high
      Disperse thy fog of sighs--for it is mine,
      And make the glory of the sun to shine
    Again on my dim eyes.--O, Earth and Sky
    Give me again the footsteps I have trod.
      Let the paths grow where I walked them bare,
      The echoes where I waked them with my prayer
    Be deaf--and let those eyes--those eyes, O God,
    Give me the light I lent them.--That some soul
    May take my love. Thou hadst no need of it.

This rough and exceedingly obscure sonnet, in which strong feeling has
condensed and distorted the language, seems to have been written by a
man who has been in love and has been repulsed. The shock has restored
him to a momentary realization of the whole experience. He looks at the
landscape, and lo! the beauty has dropped out of it. The stream has lost
its power, and the meadow its meaning. Summer has stopped. His next
thought is: "But it is I who had lent the landscape this beauty. That
landscape was myself, my dower, my glory, my birthright," and so he
breaks out with "Give me back the light I threw upon you," and so on
till the bitter word flung to the woman in the last line. The same
clearness of thought and obscurity of expression and the same passion is
to be found in the famous sonnet--"_Non ha l' ottimo artista alcun
concetto_,"--where he blames himself for not being able to obtain her
good-will--as a bad sculptor who cannot hew out the beauty from the
rock, although he feels it to be there; and in that heart-breaking one
where he says that people may only draw from life what they give to it,
and says no good can come to a man who, looking on such great beauty,
feels such pain.

It is not profitable, nor is it necessary for the comprehension of the
poems, to decide to whom or at what period each one was written. There
is dispute about some of them as to whether they were addressed to men
or women. There is question as to others whether they are prayers
addressed to Christ or love poems addressed to Vittoria. In this latter
case, perhaps, Michael Angelo did not himself know which they were.

Vittoria used to instruct him in religion, and he seems to have felt for
her a love so deep, so reverent, so passionate, and so touching that the
words are alive in which he mentions her.

"I wished," he writes beneath a sonnet which he sent her, evidently in
return for some of her own religious poems, "I wished, before taking the
things that you had many times deigned to give me, in order that I might
receive them the less unworthily, to make something for you from my own
hand. But then, remembering and knowing that the grace of God may not be
bought, and that to accept it reluctantly is the greatest sin, I confess
my fault, and willingly receive the said things, and when they shall
arrive, not because they are in my house, but I myself as being in a
house of theirs, shall deem myself in Paradise."

We must not forget that at this time Michael Angelo was an old man,
that he carried about with him a freshness and vigor of feeling that
most people lose with their youth. A reservoir of emotion broke loose
within him at a time when it caused his hale old frame suffering to
undergo it, and reillumined his undimmed intellect to cope with it. A
mystery play was enacted in him,--each sonnet is a scene. There is the
whole of a man in each of many of these sonnets. They do not seem so
much like poems as like microcosms. They are elementally complete. The
soul of man could be evolved again from them if the formula were lost.


    I know not if it be the longed for light
      Of its creator which the soul perceives,
      Or if in people's memory there lives
    A touch of early grace that keeps them bright
    Or else ambition,--or some dream whose might
      Brings to the eyes the hope the heart conceives
      And leaves a burning feeling when it leaves--
    That tears are welling in me as I write.

    The things I feel, the things I follow and the things
      I seek--are not in me,--I hardly know the place
        To find them. It is others make them mine.
    It happens when I see thee--and it brings
      Sweet pain--a yes,--a no,--sorrow and grace
        Surely it must have been those eyes of thine.

There are others which give a most touching picture of extreme piety in
extreme old age. And there are still others which are both love poems
and religious poems at the same time.


    Thou knowest that I know that thou dost know
      How, to enjoy thee, I did come more near.
      Thou knowest, I know thou knowest--I am here.
    Would we had given our greetings long ago.
    If true the hope thou hast to me revealed,
      If true the plighting of a sacred troth,
      Let the wall fall that stands between us both,
    For griefs are doubled when they are concealed.
    If, loved one,--if I only loved in thee
      What thou thyself dost love,--'tis to this end
        The spirit with his belovéd is allied.
    The things thy face inspires and teaches me
      Mortality doth little comprehend.
        Before we understand we must have died.


    Give me the time when loose the reins I flung
      Upon the neck of galloping desire.
    Give me the angel face that now among
      The angels,--tempers Heaven with its fire.
    Give the quick step that now is grown so old,
      The ready tears--the blaze at thy behest,
    If thou dost seek indeed, O Love! to hold
      Again thy reign of terror in my breast.
    If it be true that thou dost only live
      Upon the sweet and bitter pains of man
    Surely a weak old man small food can give
      Whose years strike deeper than thine arrows can.
    Upon life's farthest limit I have stood--
    What folly to make fire of burnt wood.

The occasion of the following was probably some more than wonted favor
shown to him by Vittoria.


    Great joy no less than grief doth murder men.
      The thief, even at the gallows, may be killed
      If, while through every vein with fear he's chilled,
    Sudden reprieve do set him free again.

    Thus hath this bounty from you in my pain
      Through all my griefs and sufferings fiercely thrilled,
      Coming from a breast with sovereign mercy filled,
    And more than weeping, cleft my heart in twain.

    Good news, like bad, may bring the taker death.
      The heart is rent as with the sharpest knife,
        Be it pressure or expansion cause the rift.
    Let thy great beauty which God cherisheth
      Limit my joy if it desire my life--
        The unworthy dies beneath so great a gift.


    The heart is not the life of love like mine.
    The love I love thee with has none of it.
    For hearts to sin and mortal thought incline
    And for love's habitation are unfit.
    God, when our souls were parted from Him, made
    Of me an eye--of thee, splendor and light.
    Even in the parts of thee which are to fade
    Thou hast the glory; I have only sight.
    Fire from its heat you may not analyze,
    Nor worship from eternal beauty take,
    Which deifies the lover as he bows.
    Thou hast that Paradise all within thine eyes
    Where first I loved thee. 'T is for that love's sake
    My soul's on fire with thine, beneath thy brows.

The German musicians of the seventeenth century used to write
voluntaries for the organ, using the shorthand of the older notation;
they jotted down the formulas of the successive harmonies expressed in
terms of the chords merely. The transitions and the musical explanation
were left to the individual performer. And Michael Angelo has left
behind him, as it were, the poetical equivalents of such shorthand
musical formulas. The harmonies are wonderful. The successions show a
great grasp of comprehension, but you cannot play them without filling
them out.

"Is that music, after all," one may ask, "which leaves so much to the
performer, and is that poetry, after all, which leaves so much to the
reader?" It seems you must be a Kapellmeister or a student, or
dilettante of some sort, before you can transpose and illustrate these
hieroglyphics. There is some truth in this criticism, and the modesty of
purpose in the poems is the only answer to it. They claim no comment.
Comment claims them. Call them not poetry if you will. They are a window
which looks in upon the most extraordinary nature of modern times,--a
nature whose susceptibility to impressions of form through the eye
allies it to classical times; a nature which on the emotional side
belongs to our own day.

Is it a wonder that this man was venerated with an almost superstitious
regard in Italy, and in the sixteenth century? His creations were
touched with a superhuman beauty which his contemporaries felt, yet
charged with a profoundly human meaning which they could not fathom. No
one epoch has held the key to him. There lives not a man and there never
has lived a man who could say, "I fully understand Michael Angelo's
works." It will be said that the same is true of all the very greatest
artists, and so it is in a measure. But as to the others, that truth
comes as an afterthought and an admission. As to Michael Angelo, it is
primary and overwhelming impression. "We are not sure that we comprehend
him," say the centuries as they pass, "but of this we are sure: _Simil
ne maggior uom non nacque mai_."

       *       *       *       *       *


There are many great works of fiction where the interest lies in the
situation and development of the characters or in the wrought-up climax
of the action, and where it is necessary to read the whole work before
one can feel the force of the catastrophe. But Dante's poem is a series
of disconnected scenes, held together only by the slender thread of the
itinerary. The scenes vary in length from a line or two to a page or
two; and the power of them comes, one may say, not at all from their
connection with each other, but entirely from the language in which they
are given.

A work of this kind is hard to translate because verbal felicities, to
use a mild term, are untranslatable. What English words can render the
mystery of that unknown voice that calls out of the deep,--

        "Onorate 'l altissimo poeta,
    Torna sua ombra che era dipartita"?

The cry breaks upon the night, full of awful greeting, proclamation,
prophecy, and leaves the reader standing next to Virgil, afraid now to
lift up his eyes to the poet. Awe breathes in the cadence of the words
themselves. And so with many of the most splendid lines in Dante, the
meaning inheres in the very Italian words. They alone shine with the
idea. They alone satisfy the spiritual vision.

Of all the greatest poets, Dante is most foreign to the genius of the
English race. From the point of view of English-speaking people, he is
lacking in humor. It might seem at first blush as if the argument of his
poem were a sufficient warrant for seriousness; but his seriousness is
of a nature strange to northern nations. There is in it a gaunt and
sallow earnestness which appears to us inhuman.

In the treatment of the supernatural the Teutonic nations have generally
preserved a touch of humor. This is so intrinsically true to the
Teutonic way of feeling that the humor seems to go with and to heighten
the terror of the supernatural. When Hamlet, in the scene on the
midnight terrace, addresses the ghost as "old mole," "old truepenny,"
etc., we may be sure that he is in a frenzy of excitement and
apprehension. Perhaps the explanation of this mixture of humor and
terror, is that when the mind feels itself shaken to its foundations by
the immediate presence of the supernatural,--palsied, as it were, with
fear,--there comes to its rescue, and as an antidote to the fear itself,
a reserve of humor, almost of levity. Staggered by the unknown, the mind
opposes it with the homely and the familiar. The northern nations were
too much afraid of ghosts to take them seriously. The sight of one made
a man afraid he should lose his wits if he gave way to his fright. Thus
it has come about that in the sincerest terror of the north there is a
touch of grotesque humor; and this touch we miss in Dante. The hundred
cantos of his poem are unrelieved by a single scene of comedy. The
strain of exalted tragedy is maintained throughout. His jests and wit
are not of the laughing kind. Sometimes they are grim and terrible,
sometimes playful, but always serious and full of meaning. This lack of
humor becomes very palpable in a translation, where it is not disguised
by the transcendent beauty of Dante's style.

There is another difficulty peculiar to the translating of Dante into
English. English is essentially a diffuse and prodigal language. The
great English writers have written with a free hand, prolific,
excursive, diffuse. Shakespeare, Sir Thomas Browne, Sir Walter Scott,
Robert Browning, all the typical writers of English, have been
many-worded. They have been men who said everything that came into their
heads, and trusted to their genius to make their writings readable. The
eighteenth century in England, with all its striving after classical
precision, has left behind it no great laconic English classic who
stands in the first rank. Our own Emerson is concise enough, but he is
disconnected and prophetic. Dante is not only concise, but logical,
deductive, prone to ratiocination. He set down nothing that he had not
thought of a thousand times, and conned over, arranged, and digested. We
have in English no prototype for such condensation. There is no native
work in the language written in anything which approaches the style of

    My heavy sleep a sullen thunder broke,
    So that I shook myself, springing upright,
    Like one awakened by a sudden stroke,
    And gazed with fixed eyes and new-rested sight
    Slowly about me,--awful privilege,--
    To know the place that held me, if I might.
    In truth I found myself upon the edge
    That girds the valley of the dreadful pit,
    Circling the infinite wailing with its ledge.
    Dark, deep, and cloudy, to the depths of it
    Eye could not probe, and though I bent mine low,
    It helped my vain conjecture not a whit.
    "Let us go down to the blind world below,"
    Began the poet, with a face like death,
    "I shall go first, thou second." "Say not so,"
    Cried I when I again could find my breath,
    For I had seen the whiteness of his face,
    "How shall I come if thee it frighteneth?"
    And he replied: "The anguish of the place
    And those that dwell there thus hath painted me
    With pity, not with fear. But come apace;
    The spur of the journey pricks us." Thus did he
    Enter himself, and take me in with him,
    Into the first great circle's mystery
    That winds the deep abyss about the brim.

    Here there came borne upon the winds to us,
    Not cries, but sighs that filled the concave dim,
    And kept the eternal breezes tremulous.
    The cause is grief, but grief unlinked to pain,
    That makes the unnumbered peoples suffer thus.
    I saw great crowds of children, women, men,
    Wheeling below. "Thou dost not seek to know
    What spirits are these thou seest?" Thus again
    My master spoke. "But ere we further go,
    Thou must be sure that these feel not the weight
    Of sin. They well deserved,--and yet not so.--
    They had not baptism, which is the gate
    Of Faith,--thou holdest. If they lived before
    The days of Christ, though sinless, in that state
    God they might never worthily adore.
    And I myself am such an one as these.
    For this shortcoming--on no other score--
    We are lost, and most of all our torment is
    That lost to hope we live in strong desire."
    Grief seized my heart to hear these words of his,
    Because most splendid souls and hearts of fire
    I recognized, hung in that Limbo there.
    "Tell me, my master dear, tell me, my sire,"
    Cried I at last, with eager hope to share
    That all-convincing faith,--"but went there not
    One,--once,--from hence,--made happy though it were
    Through his own merit or another's lot?"
    "I was new come into this place," said he,
    Who seemed to guess the purport of my thought,
    "When Him whose brows were bound with Victory
    I saw come conquering through this prison dark.
    He set the shade of our first parent free,
    With Abel, and the builder of the ark,
    And him that gave the laws immutable,
    And Abraham, obedient patriarch,
    David the king, and ancient Israel,
    His father and his children at his side,
    And the wife Rachel that he loved so well,
    And gave them Paradise,--and before these men
    None tasted of salvation that have died."

    We did not pause while he was talking then,
    But held our constant course along the track,
    Where spirits thickly thronged the wooded glen.
    And we had reached a point whence to turn back
    Had not been far, when I, still touched with fear,
    Perceived a fire, that, struggling with the black,
    Made conquest of a luminous hemisphere.
    The place was distant still, but I could see
    Clustered about the fire, as we drew near,
    Figures of an austere nobility.
    "Thou who dost honor science and love art,
    Pray who are these, whose potent dignity
    Doth eminently set them thus apart?"
    The poet answered me, "The honored fame
    That made their lives illustrious touched the heart
    Of God to advance them." Then a voice there came,
    "Honor the mighty poet;" and again,
    "His shade returns,--do honor to his name."
    And when the voice had finished its refrain,
    I saw four giant shadows coming on.
    They seemed nor sad nor joyous in their mien.
    And my good master said: "See him, my son,
    That bears the sword and walks before the rest,
    And seems the father of the three,--that one
    Is Homer, sovran poet. The satirist
    Horace comes next; third, Ovid; and the last
    Is Lucan. The lone voice that name expressed
    That each doth share with me; therefore they haste
    To greet and do me honor;--nor do they wrong."

    Thus did I see the assembled school who graced
    The master of the most exalted song,
    That like an eagle soars above the rest.
    When they had talked together, though not long,
    They turned to me, nodding as to a guest.
    At which my master smiled, but yet more high
    They lifted me in honor. At their behest
    I went with them as of their company,
    And made the sixth among those mighty wits.

    Thus towards the light we walked in colloquy
    Of things my silence wisely here omits,
    As there 'twas sweet to speak them, till we came
    To where a seven times circled castle sits,
    Whose walls are watered by a lovely stream.
    This we crossed over as it had been dry,
    Passing the seven gates that guard the same,
    And reached a meadow, green as Arcady.
    People were there with deep, slow-moving eyes
    Whose looks were weighted with authority.
    Scant was their speech, but rich in melodies.
    The walls receding left a pasture fair,
    A place all full of light and of great size,
    So we could see each spirit that was there.
    And straight before my eyes upon the green
    Were shown to me the souls of those that were,
    Great spirits it exalts me to have seen.
    Electra with her comrades I descried,
    I saw Æneas, and knew Hector keen,
    And in full armor Cæsar, falcon-eyed,
    Camilla and the Amazonian queen,
    King Latin with Lavinia at his side,
    Brutus that did avenge the Tarquin's sin,
    Lucrece, Cornelia, Martia Julia,
    And by himself the lonely Saladin.

    The Master of all thinkers next I saw
    Amid the philosophic family.
    All eyes were turned on him with reverent awe;
    Plato and Socrates were next his knee,
    Then Heraclitus and Empedocles,
    Thales and Anaxagoras, and he
    That based the world on chance; and next to these,
    Zeno, Diogenes, and that good leech
    The herb-collector, Dioscorides.
    Orpheus I saw, Livy and Tully, each
    Flanked by old Seneca's deep moral lore,
    Euclid and Ptolemy, and within their reach
    Hippocrates and Avicenna's store,
    The sage that wrote the master commentary,
    Averois, with Galen and a score
    Of great physicians. But my pen were weary
    Depicting all of that majestic plain
    Splendid with many an antique dignitary.
    My theme doth drive me on, and words are vain
    To give the thought the thing itself conveys.
    The six of us were now cut down to twain.
    My guardian led me forth by other ways,
    Far from the quiet of that trembling wind,
    And from the gentle shining of those rays,
    To places where all light was left behind.

       *       *       *       *       *

                        ROBERT BROWNING

There is a period in the advance of any great man's influence between
the moment when he appears and the moment when he has become historical,
during which it is difficult to give any succinct account of him. We are
ourselves a part of the thing we would describe. The element which we
attempt to isolate for purposes of study is still living within us. Our
science becomes tinged with autobiography. Such must be the fate of any
essay on Browning written at the present time.

The generation to whom his works were unmeaning has hardly passed away.
The generation he spoke for still lives. His influence seems still to be
expanding. The literature of Browning dictionaries, phrase-books,
treatises, and philosophical studies grows daily. Mr. Cooke in his Guide
to Browning (1893) gives a condensed catalogue of the best books and
essays on Browning, which covers many finely printed pages. This class
of book--the text-book--is not the product of impulse. The text-book is
a commercial article and follows the demand as closely as the reaper
follows the crop. We can tell the acreage under cultivation by looking
over the account books of the makers of farm implements. Thousands of
people are now studying Browning, following in his footsteps, reading
lives of his heroes, and hunting up the subjects he treated.

This Browningism which we are disposed to laugh at is a most interesting
secondary outcome of his influence. It has its roots in natural piety,
and the educational value of it is very great.

Browning's individuality created for him a personal following, and he
was able to respond to the call to leadership. Unlike Carlyle, he had
something to give his disciples beside the immediate satisfaction of a
spiritual need. He gave them not only meal but seed. In this he was like
Emerson; but Emerson's little store of finest grain is of a different
soil. Emerson lived in a cottage and saw the stars over his head through
his skylight. Browning, on the other hand, loved pictures, places,
music, men and women, and his works are like the house of a rich man,--a
treasury of plunder from many provinces and many ages, whose manners
and passions are vividly recalled to us. In Emerson's house there was
not a peg to hang a note upon,--"this is his bookshelf, this his bed."
But Browning's palace craves a catalogue. And a proper catalogue to such
a palace becomes a liberal education.

Robert Browning was a strong, glowing, whole-souled human being, who
enjoyed life more intensely than any Englishman since Walter Scott. He
was born among books; and circumstances enabled him to follow his
inclinations and become a writer,--a poet by profession. He was, from
early youth to venerable age, a centre of bounding vitality, the very
embodiment of spontaneous life; and the forms of poetry in which he so
fully and so accurately expressed himself enable us to know him well.
Indeed, only great poets are known so intimately as we know Robert

Religion was at the basis of his character, and it was the function of
religious poetry that his work fulfilled. Inasmuch as no man invents his
own theology, but takes it from the current world and moulds it to his
needs, it was inevitable that Robert Browning should find and seize upon
as his own all that was optimistic in Christian theology. Everything
that was hopeful his spirit accepted; everything that was sunny and
joyful and good for the brave soul he embraced. What was distressing he
rejected or explained away. In the world of Robert Browning _everything_
was right.

The range of subject covered by his poems is wider than that of any
other poet that ever lived; but the range of his ideas is exceedingly
small. We need not apologize for treating Browning as a theologian and a
doctor of philosophy, for he spent a long life in trying to show that a
poet is always really both--and he has almost convinced us. The
expositors and writers of text-books have had no difficulty in
formulating his theology, for it is of the simplest kind; and his views
on morality and art are logically a part of it. The "message" which
poets are conventionally presumed to deliver, was, in Browning's case, a
very definite creed, which may be found fully set forth in any one of
twenty poems. Every line of his poetry is logically dedicated to it.

He believes that the development of the individual soul is the main end
of existence. The strain and stress of life are incidental to growth,
and therefore desirable. Development and growth mean a closer union with
God. In fact, God is of not so much importance in Himself, but as the
end towards which man tends. That irreverent person who said that
Browning uses "God" as a pigment made an accurate criticism of his
theology. In Browning, God is adjective to man. Browning believes that
all conventional morality must be reviewed from the standpoint of how
conduct affects the actor himself, and what effect it has on his
individual growth. The province of art and of all thinking and working
is to make these truths clear and to grapple with the problems they give
rise to.

The first two fundamental beliefs of Browning--namely: (1) that,
ultimately speaking, the most important matter in the world is the soul
of a man; and (2) that a sense of effort is coincident with
development--are probably true. We instinctively feel them to be true,
and they seem to be receiving support from those quarters of research to
which we look for light, however dim. In the application of his dogmas
to specific cases in the field of ethics, Browning often reaches
conclusions which are fair subjects for disagreement. Since most of our
conventional morality is framed to repress the individual, he finds
himself at war with it--in revolt against it. He is habitually pitted
against it, and thus acquires modes of thought which sometimes lead him
into paradox--at least, to conclusions at odds with his premises. It is
in the course of exposition, and incidentally to his main purpose as a
teacher of a few fundamental ideas, that Browning has created his
masterpieces of poetry.

Never was there a man who in the course of a long life changed less.
What as a boy he dreamed of doing, that he did. The thoughts of his
earliest poems are the thoughts of his latest. His tales, his songs, his
monologues, his dramas, his jests, his sermons, his rage, his prayer,
are all upon the same theme: whatever fed his mind nourished these
beliefs. His interest in the world was solely an interest in them. He
saw them in history and in music; his travels and studies brought him
back nothing else but proofs of them; the universe in each of its
manifestations was a commentary upon them. His nature was the simplest,
the most positive, the least given to abstract speculation, which
England can show in his time. He was not a thinker, for he was never in
doubt. He had recourse to disputation as a means of inculcating truth,
but he used it like a lawyer arguing a case. His conclusions are fixed
from the start. Standing, from his infancy, upon a faith as absolute as
that of a martyr, he has never for one instant undergone the experience
of doubt, and only knows that there is such a thing because he has met
with it in other people. The force of his feelings is so much greater
than his intellect that his mind serves his soul like a valet. Out of
the whole cosmos he takes what belongs to him and sustains him, leaving
the rest, or not noting it.

There never was a great poet whose scope was so definite. That is the
reason why the world is so cleanly divided into people who do and who do
not care for Browning. One real glimpse into him gives you the whole of
him. The public which loves him is made up of people who have been
through certain spiritual experiences to which he is the antidote. The
public which loves him not consists of people who have escaped these
experiences. To some he is a strong, rare, and precious elixir, which
nothing else will replace. To others, who do not need him, he is a
boisterous and eccentric person,--a Heracles in the house of mourning.

Let us remember his main belief,--the value of the individual. The needs
of society constantly require that the individual be suppressed. They
hold him down and punish him at every point. The tyranny of order and
organization--of monarch or public opinion--weights him and presses him
down. This is the inevitable tendency of all stable social arrangements.
Now and again there arises some strong nature that revolts against the
influence of conformity which is becoming intolerable,--against the
atmosphere of caste or theory; of Egyptian priest or Manchester
economist; of absolutism or of democracy.

And this strong nature cries out that the souls of men are being
injured, and that they are important; that your soul and my soul are
more important than Cæsar--or than the survival of the fittest. Such a
voice was the voice of Christ, and the lesser saviors of the world bring
always a like message of revolt: they arise to fulfil the same
fundamental need of the world.

Carlyle, Emerson, Victor Hugo, Browning, were prophets to a generation
oppressed in spirit, whose education had oppressed them with a Jewish
law of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham and Malthus, of Clarkson and
Cobden,--of thought for the million, and for man in the aggregate. "To
what end is all this beneficence, all this conscience, all this theory?"
some one at length cries out. "For whom is it in the last analysis that
you legislate? You talk _of man_, I see only _men_."

To men suffering from an age of devotion to humanity came Robert
Browning as a liberator. Like Carlyle, he was understood first in this
country because we had begun earlier with our theoretical and practical
philanthropies, and had taken them more seriously. We had suffered more.
We needed to be told that it was right to love, hate, and be angry, to
sin and repent. It was a revelation to us to think that we had some
inheritance in the joys and passions of mankind. We needed to be told
these things as a tired child needs to be comforted. Browning gave them
to us in the form of a religion. There was no one else sane or deep or
wise or strong enough to know what we lacked.

If ever a generation had need of a poet,--of some one to tell them they
might cry and not be ashamed, rejoice and not find the reason in John
Stuart Mill; some one who should justify the claims of the spirit which
was starving on the religion of humanity,--it was the generation for
whom Browning wrote.

Carlyle had seized upon the French Revolution, which served his ends
because it was filled with striking, with powerful, with grotesque
examples of individual force. In his Hero Worship he gives his
countrymen a philosophy of history based on nothing but worship of the
individual. Browning with the same end in view gave us pictures of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in France and Italy. He glorified what
we had thought crime and error, and made men of us. He was the apostle
to the educated of a most complex period, but such as he was, he was
complete. Those people to whom he has been a poet know what it is for
the heart to receive full expression from the lips of another.

The second thesis which Browning insists on--the identity of spiritual
suffering with spiritual growth--is the one balm of the world. It is
said that recent physiological experiment shows that muscles do not
develop unless exercised up to what is called the "distress point." If
this shall prove to be an instance of a general law,--if the struggles
and agony of the spirit are really signs of an increase of that
spiritual life which is the only sort of life we can conceive of now or
hereafter,--then the truth-to-feeling of much of Browning's poetry has a
scientific basis. It cannot be denied that Browning held firmly two of
the most moving and far-reaching ideas of the world, and he expanded
them in the root, leaf, flower, and fruit of a whole world of poetic

It is unnecessary at this day to point out the beauties of Browning or
the sagacity with which he chose his effects. He gives us the sallow
wife of James Lee, whose soul is known to him, Pippa the silk-spinning
girl, two men found in the morgue, persons lost, forgotten, or
misunderstood. He searches the world till he finds the man whom
everybody will concur in despising, the mediæval grammarian, and he
writes to him the most powerful ode in English, the mightiest tribute
ever paid to a man. His culture and his learning are all subdued to what
he works in; they are all in harness to draw his thought. He mines in
antiquity or drags his net over German philosophy or modern
drawing-rooms,--all to the same end.

In that miracle of power and beauty--The Flight of the Duchess--he has
improvised a whole civilization in order to make the setting of contrast
which shall cause the soul of the little duchess to shine clearly. In
Childe Roland he creates a cycle, an epoch of romance and mysticism,
because he requires it as a stage property. In A Death in the Desert you
have the East in the first century--so vividly given that you wish
instantly to travel there, Bible in hand, to feel the atmosphere with
which your Bible ought always to have been filled. His reading brings
him to Euripides. He sees that Alcestis can be set to his theme; and
with a week or two of labor, while staying in a country house, he draws
out of the Greek fable the world of his own meaning and shows it shining
forth in a living picture of the Greek theatre which has no counterpart
for vitality in any modern tongue.

The descriptive and narrative powers of Browning are above, beyond, and
outside of all that has been done in English in our time, as the odd
moments prove which he gave to the Pied Piper, The Ride from Ghent to
Aix, Incident in the French Camp. These chips from his workshop passed
instantly into popular favor because they were written in familiar

How powerfully his gifts of utterance were brought to bear upon the
souls of men will be recorded, even if never understood, by literary
historians. It is idle to look to the present generation for an
intelligible account of One Word More, Rabbi Ben Ezra, Prospice, Saul,
The Blot on the 'Scutcheon. They must be judged by the future and by men
who can speak of them with a steady lip.

It must be conceded that the conventional judgments of society are
sometimes right, and Browning's mission led him occasionally into
paradox and _jeux d'esprit_. Bishop Blougram is an attempt to discover
whether a good case cannot be made out for the individual hypocrite. The
Statue and the Bust is frankly a _reductio ad absurdum_, and ends with a

There is more serious trouble with others. The Grammarian's Funeral is
false to fact, and will appear so to posterity. The grammarian was not a
hero, and our calmer moments show us that the poem is not a great ode.
It gave certain people the glow of a great truth, but it remains a
paradox and a piece of exaggeration. The same must be said of a large
part of Browning. The New Testament is full of such paradoxes of
exaggeration, like the parable of the unjust steward, the rich man's
chance for heaven, the wedding garment; but in these, the truth is
apparent,--we are not betrayed. In Browning's paradoxes we are often led
on and involved in an emotion over some situation which does not
honestly call for the emotion.

The most noble quality in Browning is his temper. He does not proceed,
as liberators generally do, by railing and pulling down. He builds up;
he is positive, not negative. He is less bitter than Christianity

While there is no more doubt as to the permanent value of the content of
Browning than of the value of the spiritual truths of the New Testament,
there is very little likelihood that his poems will be understood in the
remote future. At present, they are following the waves of influence of
the education which they correct. They are built like Palladio's Theatre
at Vicenza, where the perspective converges toward a single seat. In
order to be subject to the illusion, the spectator must occupy the
duke's place. The colors are dropping from the poems already. The
feeblest of them lose it first. There was a steady falling off in power
accompanied by a constant increase in his peculiarities during the last
twenty years of his life, and we may make some surmise as to how
Balaustion's Adventure will strike posterity by reading Parleyings with
Certain People.

The distinctions between Browning's characters--which to us are so
vivid--will to others seem less so. Paracelsus and Rabbi Ben Ezra, Lippo
Lippi, Karshish, Caponsacchi, and Ferishtah will all appear to be run in
the same mould. They will seem to be the thinnest disguises which a poet
ever assumed. The lack of the dramatic element in Browning--a lack
which is concealed from us by our intense sympathy for him and by his
fondness for the trappings of the drama--will be apparent to the
after-comers. They will say that all the characters in The Blot on the
'Scutcheon take essentially the same view of the catastrophe of the
play; that Pippa and Pompilia and Phene are the same person in the same
state of mind. In fact, the family likeness is great. They will say that
the philosophic monologues are repetitions of each other. It cannot be
denied that there is much repetition,--much threshing out of old straw.
Those who have read Browning for years and are used to the monologues
are better pleased to find the old ideas than new ones, which they could
not understand so readily. When the later Browning takes us on one of
those long afternoon rambles through his mind,--over moor and fen,
through jungle, down precipice, past cataract,--we know just where we
are coming out in the end. We know the place better than he did himself.
Nor will posterity like Browning's manners,--the dig in the ribs, the
personal application, and _de te fabula_ of most of his talking. These
unpleasant things are part of his success with us to whom he means
life, not art. Posterity will want only art. We needed doctrine. If he
had not preached, we would not have listened to him. But posterity
evades the preachers and accepts only singers. Posterity is so dainty
that it lives on nothing but choice morsels. It will cull such out of
the body of Browning as the anthologists are beginning to do already,
and will leave the great mass of him to be rediscovered from time to
time by belated sufferers from the philosophy of the nineteenth century.

There is a class of persons who claim for Browning that his verse is
really good verse, and that he was a master of euphony. This cannot be
admitted except as to particular instances in which his success is due
to his conformity to law, not to his violation of it.

The rules of verse in English are merely a body of custom which has
grown up unconsciously, and most of which rests upon some simple
requirement of the ear.

In speaking of the power of poetry we are dealing with what is
essentially a mystery, the outcome of infinitely subtle, numerous, and
complex forces.

The rhythm of versification seems to serve the purpose of a prompter. It
lets us know in advance just what syllables are to receive the emphasis
which shall make the sense clear. There are many lines in poetry which
become obscure the instant they are written in prose, and probably the
advantages of poetry over prose, or, to express it modestly, the excuse
for poetry at all, is that the form facilitates the comprehension of the
matter. Rhyme is itself an indication that a turning-point has been
reached. It punctuates and sets off the sense, and relieves our
attention from the strain of suspended interest. All of the artifices of
poetical form seem designed to a like end. Naturalness of speech is
somewhat sacrificed, but we gain by the sacrifice a certain uniformity
of speech which rests and exhilarates. We need not, for the present,
examine the question of euphony any further, nor ask whether euphony be
not a positive element in verse,--an element which belongs to music.

The negative advantages of poetry over prose are probably sufficient to
account for most of its power. A few more considerations of the same
negative nature, and which affect the vividness of either prose or
verse, may be touched upon by way of preface to the inquiry, why
Browning is hard to understand and why his verse is bad.

Every one is more at ease in his mind when he reads a language which
observes the ordinary rules of grammar, proceeds by means of sentences
having subjects and predicates, and of which the adjectives and adverbs
fall easily into place. A doubt about the grammar is a doubt about the
sense. And this is so true that sometimes when our fears are allayed by
faultless grammar we may read absolute nonsense with satisfaction. We
sometimes hear it stated as a bitter epigram, that poetry is likely to
endure just in proportion as the form of it is superior to the content.
As to the "inferiority" of the content, a moment's reflection shows that
the ideas and feelings which prevail from age to age, and in which we
may expect posterity to delight, are in their nature, and of necessity,
commonplace. And if by "superiority of form" it is meant that these
ideas shall be conveyed in flowing metres,--in words which are easy to
pronounce, put together according to the rules of grammar, and largely
drawn from the vulgar tongue,--we need not wonder that posterity should
enjoy it. In fact, it is just such verse as this which survives from age
to age.

Browning possesses one superlative excellence, and it is upon this that
he relies. It is upon this that he has emerged and attacked the heart
of man. It is upon this that he may possibly fight his way down to
posterity and live like a fire forever in the bosom of mankind.

His language is the language of common speech; his force, the immediate
force of life. His language makes no compromises of any sort. It is not
subdued to form. The emphasis demanded by the sense is very often not
the emphasis demanded by the metre. He cuts off his words and forces
them ruthlessly into lines as a giant might force his limbs into the
armor of a mortal. The joints and members of the speech fall in the
wrong places and have no relation to the joints and members of the

He writes like a lion devouring an antelope. He rends his subject,
breaks its bones, and tears out the heart of it. He is not made more,
but less, comprehensible by the verse-forms in which he writes. The
sign-posts of the metre lead us astray. He would be easier to understand
if his poems were printed in the form of prose. That is the reason why
Browning becomes easy when read aloud; for in reading aloud we give the
emphasis of speech, and throw over all effort to follow the emphasis of
the metre. This is also the reason why Browning is so unquotable--why he
has made so little effect upon the language--why so few of the phrases
and turns of thought and metaphor with which poets enrich a language
have been thrown into English by him. Let a man who does not read poetry
take up a volume of Familiar Quotations, and he will find page after
page of lines and phrases which he knows by heart--from Tennyson,
Milton, Wordsworth--things made familiar to him not by the poets, but by
the men whom the poets educated, and who adopted their speech. Of
Browning he will know not a word. And yet Browning's poetry is full of
words that glow and smite, and which have been burnt into and struck
into the most influential minds of the last fifty years.

But Browning's phrases are almost impossible to remember, because they
are speech not reduced to poetry. They do not sing, they do not carry.
They have no artificial buoys to float them in our memories.

It follows from this uncompromising nature of Browning that when, by the
grace of inspiration, the accents of his speech do fall into rhythm, his
words will have unimaginable sweetness. The music is so much a part of
the words--so truly spontaneous--that other verse seems tame and
manufactured beside his.

Rhyme is generally so used by Browning as not to subserve the true
function of rhyme. It is forced into a sort of superficial conformity,
but marks no epoch in the verse. The clusters of rhymes are clusters
only to the eye and not to the ear. The necessity of rhyming leads
Browning into inversions,--into expansions of sentences beyond the
natural close of the form,--into every sort of contortion. The rhymes
clog and distress the sentences.

As to grammar, Browning is negligent. Some of his most eloquent and
wonderful passages have no grammar whatever. In Sordello grammar does
not exist; and the want of it, the strain upon the mind caused by an
effort to make coherent sentences out of a fleeting, ever-changing,
iridescent maze of talk, wearies and exasperates the reader. Of course
no one but a school-master desires that poetry shall be capable of being
parsed; but every one has a right to expect that he shall be left
without a sense of grammatical deficiency.

The Invocation in The Ring and the Book is one of the most beautiful
openings that can be imagined.

    "O lyric love, half angel and half bird,
    And all a wonder and a wild desire--Boldest
    of hearts that ever braved the sun,
    Took sanctuary within the holier blue,
    And sang a kindred soul out to his face--
    Yet human at the red-ripe of the heart--
    When the first summons from the darkling earth
    Reached thee amid thy chambers, blanched their blue,
    And bared them of the glory--to drop down,
    To toil for man, to suffer or to die--
    This is the same voice: can thy soul know change?
    Hail then, and hearken from the realms of help!
    Never may I commence my song, my due
    To God who best taught song by gift of thee,
    Except with bent head and beseeching hand--
    That still, despite the distance and the dark
    What was, again may be; some interchange
    Of grace, some splendor once thy very thought,
    Some benediction anciently thy smile;--
    Never conclude, but raising hand and head
    Thither where eyes, that cannot reach, yet yearn
    For all hope, all sustainment, all reward,
    Their utmost up and on--so blessing back
    In those thy realms of help, that heaven thy home,
    Some whiteness, which, I judge, thy face makes proud,
    Some wanness where, I think, thy foot may fall."

These sublime lines are marred by apparent grammatical obscurity. The
face of beauty is marred when one of the eyes seems sightless. We
re-read the lines to see if we are mistaken. If they were in a foreign
language, we should say we did not fully understand them.

In the dramatic monologues, as, for instance, in The Ring and the Book
and in the innumerable other narratives and contemplations where a
single speaker holds forth, we are especially called upon to forget
grammar. The speaker relates and reflects,--pours out his ideas in the
order in which they occur to him,--pursues two or three trains of
thought at the same time, claims every license which either poetry or
conversation could accord him. The effect of this method is so
startling, that when we are vigorous enough to follow the sense, we
forgive all faults of metre and grammar, and feel that this natural
Niagara of speech is the only way for the turbulent mind of man to get
complete utterance. We forget that it is possible for the same thing to
be done, and yet to be subdued, and stilled, and charmed into music.

Prospero is as natural and as individual as Bishop Blougram. His grammar
is as incomplete, yet we do not note it. He talks to himself, to
Miranda, to Ariel, all at once, weaving all together his passions, his
philosophy, his narrative, and his commands. His reflections are as
profuse and as metaphysical as anything in Browning, and yet all is
clear,--all is so managed that it lends magic. The characteristic and
unfathomable significance of this particular character Prospero comes
out of it.

      "_Prospero_. My brother and thy uncle, called Antonio--
    I pray thee mark me,--that a brother should
    Be so perfidious!--he whom next thyself,
    Of all the world I lov'd, and to him put
    The manage of my state; as at that time
    Through all the seignories it was the first,
    And Prospero, the Prime Duke, being so reputed
    In dignity and for the liberal arts,
    Without a parallel: those being all my study,
    The government I cast upon my brother,
    And to my state grew stranger, being transported
    And wrapped in secret studies. Thy false uncle--
    Dost thou attend me?"

It is unnecessary to give examples from Browning of defective verse, of
passages which cannot be understood, which cannot be construed, which
cannot be parodied, and which can scarcely be pronounced. They are
mentioned only as throwing light on Browning's cast of mind and methods
of work. His inability to recast and correct his work cost the world a
master. He seems to have been condemned to create at white heat and to
stand before the astonishing draft, which his energy had flung out,
powerless to complete it.

We have a few examples of things which came forth perfect, but many of
even the most beautiful and most original of the shorter poems are
marred by some blotches that hurt us and which one feels might have
been struck out or corrected in half an hour. How many of the poems are
too long! It is not that Browning went on writing after he had completed
his thought,--for the burst of beauty is as likely to come at the end as
at the beginning,--but that his thought had to unwind itself like web
from a spider. He could not command it. He could only unwind and unwind.

Pan and Luna is a sketch, as luminous as a Correggio, but not finished.
Caliban upon Setebos, on the other hand, shows creative genius, beyond
all modern reach, but flounders and drags on too long. In the poems
which he revised, as, for instance, Hervé Riel, which exists in two or
more forms, the corrections are verbal, and were evidently done with the
same fierce haste with which the poems were written.

We must not for an instant imagine that Browning was indolent or
indifferent; it is known that he was a taskmaster to himself. But he
_could_ not write other than he did. When the music came and the verse
caught the flame, and his words became sweeter, and his thought clearer,
then he could sweep down like an archangel bringing new strains of
beauty to the earth. But the occasions when he did this are a handful
of passages in a body of writing as large as the Bible.

Just as Browning could not stop, so he found it hard to begin. His way
of beginning is to seize the end of the thread just where he can, and
write down the first sentence.

    "She should never have looked at me,
    If she meant I should not love her!"

    "Water your damned flowerpots, do--"

    "No! for I'll save it! Seven years since."

    "But give them me, the mouth, the eyes, the brow!"

    "Fear Death? to feel the fog in my throat."

Sometimes his verse fell into coils as it came, but he himself, as he
wrote the first line of a poem, never knew in what form of verse the
poem would come forth. Hence the novel figures and strange counterpoint.
Having evolved the first group of lines at haphazard, he will sometimes
repeat the form (a very complex form, perhaps, which, in order to have
any organic effect, would have to be tuned to the ear most nicely), and
repeat it clumsily. Individual taste must be judge of his success in
these experiments. Sometimes the ear is worried by an attempt to trace
the logic of the rhymes which are concealed by the rough jolting of the
metre. Sometimes he makes no attempt to repeat the first verse, but
continues in irregular improvisation.

Browning never really stoops to literature; he makes perfunctory
obeisance to it. The truth is that Browning is expressed by his defects.
He would not be Robert Browning without them. In the technical part of
his art, as well as in his spirit, Browning represents a reaction of a
violent sort. He was too great an artist not to feel that his violations
of form helped him. The blemishes in The Grammarian's Funeral--_hoti's
business, the enclitic de_--were stimulants; they heightened his
effects. They helped him make clear his meaning, that life is greater
than art. These savageries spoke to the hearts of men tired of
smoothness and platitude, and who were relieved by just such a breaking
up of the ice. Men loved Browning not only for what he was, but also for
what he was not.

These blemishes were, under the circumstances, and for a limited
audience, strokes of art. It is not to be pretended that, even from this
point of view, they were always successful, only that they are organic.
The nineteenth century would have to be lived over again to wipe these
passages out of Browning's poetry.

In that century he stands as one of the great men of England. His
doctrines are the mere effulgence of his personality. He himself was the
truth which he taught. His life was the life of one of his own heroes;
and in the close of his life--by a coincidence which is not sad, but
full of meaning--may be seen one of those apparent paradoxes in which he
himself delighted.

Through youth and manhood Browning rose like a planet calmly following
the laws of his own being. From time to time he put forth his volumes
which the world did not understand. Neglect caused him to suffer, but
not to change. It was not until his work was all but finished, not till
after the publication of The Ring and the Book, that complete
recognition came to him. It was given him by men and women who had been
in the nursery when he began writing, who had passed their youth with
his minor poems, and who understood him.

In later life Browning's powers declined. The torrent of feeling could
no longer float the raft of doctrine, as it had done so lightly and for
so long. His poems, always difficult, grew dry as well.

But Browning was true to himself. He had all his life loved converse
with men and women, and still enjoyed it. He wrote constantly and to his
uttermost. It was not for him to know that his work was done. He wrote
on manfully to the end, showing, occasionally, his old power, and always
his old spirit. And on his death-bed it was not only his doctrine, but
his life that blazed out in the words:--

    "One who never turned his back, but marched breast forward,
    Never doubted clouds would break,
    Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph.
    Held, we fall to rise--are baffled to fight better--
      Sleep to wake."

       *       *       *       *       *

                       ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

In the early eighties, and in an epoch when the ideals of George Eliot
were still controlling, the figure of Stevenson rose with a sort of
radiance as a writer whose sole object was to entertain. Most of the
great novelists were then dead, and the scientific school was in the
ascendant. Fiction was entering upon its death grapple with sociology.
Stevenson came, with his tales of adventure and intrigue, out-of-door
life and old-time romance, and he recalled to every reader his boyhood
and the delights of his earliest reading. We had forgotten that novels
could be amusing.

Hence it is that the great public not only loves Stevenson as a writer,
but regards him with a certain personal gratitude. There was, moreover,
in everything he wrote an engaging humorous touch which made friends for
him everywhere, and excited an interest in his fragile and somewhat
elusive personality supplementary to the appreciation of his books as
literature. Toward the end of his life both he and the public
discovered this, and his railleries or sermons took on the form of
personal talk.

Beneath these matters lay the fact, known to all, that the man was
fighting a losing battle against mortal sickness, and that practically
the whole of his work was done under conditions which made any
productivity seem a miracle. The heroic invalid was seen through all his
books, still sitting before his desk or on his bed, turning out with
unabated courage, with increasing ability, volume after volume of
gayety, of boys' story-book, and of tragic romance.

There is enough in this record to explain the popularity, running at
times into hero-worship and at times into drawing-room fatuity, which
makes Stevenson and his work a fair subject for study. It is not
impossible that a man who met certain needs of the times so fully, and
whom large classes of people sprang forward to welcome, may in some
particulars give a clew to the age.

Any description of Stevenson's books is unnecessary. We have all read
them too recently to need a prompter. The high spirits and elfin humor
which play about and support every work justifies them all.

One of his books, The Child's Garden of Verses, is different in kind
from the rest. It has no prototype, and is by far the most original
thing that he did. The unsophisticated and gay little volume is a work
of the greatest value. Stevenson seems to have remembered the
impressions of his childhood with accuracy, and he has recorded them
without affectation, without sentimentality, without exaggeration. In
depicting children he draws from life. He is at home in the mysteries of
their play and in the inconsequent operations of their minds, in the
golden haze of impressions in which they live. The references to
children in his essays and books show the same understanding and
sympathy. There is more than mere literary charm in what he says here.
In the matter of childhood we must study him with respect. He is an

The slight but serious studies in biography--alas! too few--which
Stevenson published, ought also to be mentioned, because their merit is
apt to be overlooked by the admirers of his more ambitious works. His
understanding of two such opposite types of men as Burns and Thoreau is
notable, and no less notable are the courage, truth, and penetration
with which he dealt with them. His essay on Burns is the most
comprehensible word ever said of Burns. It makes us love Burns less,
but understand him more.

The problems suggested by Stevenson are more important than his work
itself. We have in him that rare combination,--a man whose theories and
whose practice are of a piece. His doctrines are the mere description of
his own state of mind while at work.

The quality which every one will agree in conceding to Stevenson is
lightness of touch. This quality is a result of his extreme lucidity,
not only of thought, but of intention. We know what he means, and we are
sure that we grasp his whole meaning at the first reading. Whether he be
writing a tale of travel or humorous essay, a novel of adventure, a
story of horror, a morality, or a fable; in whatever key he plays,--and
he seems to have taken delight in showing mastery in many,--the reader
feels safe in his hands, and knows that no false note will be struck.
His work makes no demands upon the attention. It is food so thoroughly
peptonized that it is digested as soon as swallowed and leaves us
exhilarated rather than fed.

Writing was to him an art, and almost everything that he has written has
a little the air of being a _tour de force_. Stevenson's books and
essays were generally brilliant imitations of established things, done
somewhat in the spirit of an expert in billiards. In short, Stevenson is
the most extraordinary mimic that has ever appeared in literature.

That is the reason why he has been so much praised for his style. When
we say of a new thing that it "has style," we mean that it is done as we
have seen things done before. Bunyan, De Foe, or Charles Lamb were to
their contemporaries men without style. The English, to this day,
complain of Emerson that he has no style.

If a man writes as he talks, he will be thought to have no style, until
people get used to him, for literature means _what has been written_. As
soon as a writer is established, his manner of writing is adopted by the
literary conscience of the times, and you may follow him and still have
"style." You may to-day imitate George Meredith, and people, without
knowing exactly why they do it, will concede you "style." Style means

When Stevenson, writing from Samoa in the agony of his South Seas (a
book he could not write because he had no paradigm and original to copy
from), says that he longs for a "moment of style," he means that he
wishes there would come floating through his head a memory of some other
man's way of writing to which he could modulate his sentences.

It is no secret that Stevenson in early life spent much time in
imitating the styles of various authors, for he has himself described
the manner in which he went to work to fit himself for his career as a
writer. His boyish ambition led him to employ perfectly phenomenal
diligence in cultivating a perfectly phenomenal talent for imitation.

There was probably no fault in Stevenson's theory as to how a man should
learn to write, and as to the discipline he must undergo. Almost all the
greatest artists have shown, in their early work, traces of their early
masters. These they outgrow. "For as this temple waxes, the inward
service of the mind and soul grows wide withal;" and an author's own
style breaks through the coverings of his education, as a hyacinth
breaks from the bulb. It is noticeable, too, that the early and
imitative work of great men generally belongs to a particular school to
which their maturity bears a logical relation. They do not cruise about
in search of a style or vehicle, trying all and picking up hints here
and there, but they fall incidentally and genuinely under influences
which move them and afterwards qualify their original work.

With Stevenson it was different; for he went in search of a style as
Coelebs in search of a wife. He was an eclectic by nature. He became a
remarkable, if not a unique phenomenon,--for he never grew up. Whether
or not there was some obscure connection between his bodily troubles and
the arrest of his intellectual development, it is certain that Stevenson
remained a boy till the day of his death.

The boy was the creature in the universe whom Stevenson best understood.
Let us remember how a boy feels about art, and why he feels so. The
intellect is developed in the child with such astonishing rapidity that
long before physical maturity its head is filled with ten thousand
things learned from books and not drawn directly from real life.

The form and setting in which the boy learns of matters sticks in the
mind as a part of the matters themselves. He cannot disentangle what is
conventional from what is original, because he has not yet a first-hand
acquaintance with life by which to interpret.

Every schoolboy of talent writes essays in the style of Addison, because
he is taught that this is the correct way of writing. He has no means
of knowing that in writing in this manner he is using his mind in a very
peculiar and artificial way,--a way entirely foreign to Addison himself;
and that he is really striving not so much to say something himself as
to reproduce an effect.

There is one thing which young people do not know, and which they find
out during the process of growing up,--and that is that good things in
art have been done by men whose entire attention was absorbed in an
attempt to tell the truth, and who have been chiefly marked by a deep

To a boy, the great artists of the world are a lot of necromancers,
whose enchantments can perhaps be stolen and used again. To a man, they
are a lot of human beings, and their works are parts of them. Their
works are their hands and their feet, their organs, dimensions, senses,
affections, passions. To a man, it is as absurd to imitate the manner of
Dean Swift in writing as it would be to imitate the manner of Dr.
Johnson in eating. But Stevenson was not a man, he was a boy; or, to
speak more accurately, the attitude of his mind towards his work
remained unaltered from boyhood till death, though his practice and
experiment gave him, as he grew older, a greater mastery over his
materials. It is in this attitude of Stevenson's mind toward his own
work that we must search for the heart of his mystery.

He conceived of himself as "an artist," and of his writings as
performances. As a consequence, there is an undertone of insincerity in
almost everything which he has written. His attention is never wholly
absorbed in his work, but is greatly taken up with the notion of how
each stroke of it is going to appear.

We have all experienced, while reading his books, a certain undefinable
suspicion which interferes with the enjoyment of some people, and
enhances that of others. It is not so much the cream-tarts themselves
that we suspect, as the motive of the giver.

  "I am in the habit," said Prince Florizel, "of looking not so much
  to the nature of the gift as to the spirit in which it is offered."

  "The spirit, sir," returned the young man, with another bow, "is one
  of mockery."

This doubt about Stevenson's truth and candor is one of the results of
the artistic doctrines which he professed and practised. He himself
regards his work as a toy; and how can we do otherwise?

It seems to be a law of psychology that the only way in which the truth
can be strongly told is in the course of a search for truth. The moment
a man strives after some "effect," he disqualifies himself from making
that effect; for he draws the interest of his audience to the same
matters that occupy his own mind; namely, upon his experiment and his
efforts. It is only when a man is saying something that he believes is
obviously and eternally true, that he can communicate spiritual things.

Ultimately speaking, the vice of Stevenson's theories about art is that
they call for a self-surrender by the artist of his own mind to the
pleasure of others, for a subordination of himself to the production of
this "effect" in the mind of another. They degrade and belittle him. Let
Stevenson speak for himself; the thought contained in the following
passage is found in a hundred places in his writings and dominated his
artistic life.

  "The French have a romantic evasion for one employment, and call its
  practitioners the Daughters of Joy. The artist is of the same
  family, he is of the Sons of Joy, chose his trade to please himself,
  gains his livelihood by pleasing others, and has parted with
  something of the sterner dignity of men. The poor Daughter of Joy
  carrying her smiles and her finery quite unregarded through the
  crowd, makes a figure which it is impossible to recall without a
  wounding pity. She is the type of the unsuccessful artist."

These are the doctrines and beliefs which, time out of mind, have
brought the arts into contempt. They are as injurious as they are false,
and they will checkmate the progress of any man or of any people that
believes them. They corrupt and menace not merely the fine arts, but
every other form of human expression in an equal degree. They are as
insulting to the comic actor as they are to Michael Angelo, for the
truth and beauty of low comedy are as dignified, and require of the
artist the same primary passion for life for its own sake, as the truth
and beauty of The Divine Comedy. The doctrines are the outcome of an
Alexandrine age. After art has once learnt to draw its inspiration
directly from life and has produced some masterpieces, then imitations
begin to creep in. That Stevenson's doctrines tend to produce imitative
work is obvious. If the artist is a fisher of men, then we must examine
the works of those who have known how to bait their hooks: in
fiction,--De Foe, Fielding, Walter Scott, Dumas, Balzac.

To a study of these men, Stevenson had, as we have seen, devoted the
most plastic years of his life. The style and even the mannerisms of
each of them, he had trained himself to reproduce. One can almost write
their names across his pages and assign each as a presiding genius over
a share of his work. Not that Stevenson purloined or adopted in a mean
spirit, and out of vanity. His enthusiasm was at the bottom of all he
did. He was well read in the belles lettres of England and the
romanticists of France. These books were his bible. He was steeped in
the stage-land and cloud-land of sentimental literature. From time to
time, he emerged, trailing clouds of glory and showering sparkles from
his hands.

A close inspection shows his clouds and sparkles to be stage properties;
but Stevenson did not know it. The public not only does not know it, but
does not care whether it be so or not. The doughty old novel readers who
knew their Scott and Ainsworth and Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade,
their Dumas and their Cooper, were the very people whose hearts were
warmed by Stevenson. If you cross-question one of these, he will admit
that Stevenson is after all a revival, an echo, an after-glow of the
romantic movement, and that he brought nothing new. He will scout any
comparison between Stevenson and his old favorites, but he is ready
enough to take Stevenson for what he is worth. The most casual reader
recognizes a whole department of Stevenson's work as competing in a
general way with Walter Scott.

Kidnapped is a romantic fragment whose original is to be found in the
Scotch scenes of the Waverley Novels. An incident near the beginning of
it, the curse of Jennet Clouston upon the House of Shaws, is transferred
from Guy Mannering almost literally. But the curse of Meg Merrilies in
Guy Mannering--which is one of the most surprising and powerful scenes
Scott ever wrote--is an organic part of the story, whereas the
transcript is a thing stuck in for effect, and the curse is put in the
mouth of an old woman whose connection with the plot is apocryphal, and
who never appears again.

Treasure Island is a piece of astounding ingenuity, in which the manner
is taken from Robinson Crusoe, and the plot belongs to the era of the
detective story. The Treasure of Franchard is a French farce or light
comedy of bourgeois life, of a type already a little old-fashioned, but
perfectly authentic. The tone, the _mise-en-scène_, the wit, the
character-drawing, the very language, are all so marvellously reproduced
from the French, that we almost see the footlights while we read it.

The Sieur de Maletroit's Door embodies the same idea as a well-known
French play in verse and in one act. The version of Stevenson is like an
exquisite water-color copy, almost as good as the original.

The Isle of Voices is the production of a man of genius. No one can too
much admire the legerdemain of the magician who could produce this
thing; for it is a story out of the Arabian Nights, told with a
perfection of mannerism, a reproduction of the English in which the
later translators of the Arabian Nights have seen fit to deal, a
simulation of the movement and detail of the Eastern stories which
fairly takes our breath away.

It is "ask and have" with this man. Like Mephistopheles in the
Raths-Keller, he gives us what vintage we call for. Olalla is an
instance in point. Any one familiar with Mérimée's stories will smile at
the naïveté with which Stevenson has taken the leading idea of Lokis,
and surrounded it with the Spanish sunshine of Carmen. But we have
"fables," moralities, and psychology, Jekyl and Hyde, Markheim, and Will
O' the Mill. We have the pasteboard feudal style, in which people say,
"Ye can go, boy; for I will keep your good friend and my good gossip
company till curfew--aye, and by St. Mary till the Sun get up again." We
must have opera bouffe, as in Prince Otto; melodrama, as in The Pavilion
on the Links; the essay of almost biblical solemnity in the manner of
Sir Thomas Browne, the essay of charming humor in the style of Charles
Lamb, the essay of introspection and egotism in the style of Montaigne.

Let us not for a moment imagine that Stevenson has stolen these things
and is trying to palm them off on us as his own. He has absorbed them.
He does not know their origin. He gives them out again in joy and in
good faith with zest and amusement and in the excitement of a new

If all these many echoing voices do not always ring accurately true, yet
their number is inordinate and remarkable. They will not bear an
immediate comparison with their originals; but we may be sure that the
vintages of Mephistopheles would not have stood a comparison with real
wine. One of the books which established Stevenson's fame was the New
Arabian Nights. The series of tales about Prince Florizel of Bohemia was
a brilliant, original, and altogether delightful departure in light
literature. The stories are a frank and wholesome caricature of the
French detective story. They are legitimate pieces of literature because
they are burlesque, and because the smiling Mephistopheles who lurks
everywhere in the pages of Stevenson is for this time the acknowledged
showman of the piece.

A burlesque is always an imitation shown off by the foil of some
incongruous setting. The setting in this case Stevenson found about him
in the omnibuses, the clubs, and the railways of sordid and complicated

In this early book Stevenson seems to have stumbled upon the true
employment of his powers without realizing the treasure trove, for he
hardly returned to the field of humor, for which his gifts most happily
fitted him. As a writer of burlesque he truly expresses himself. He is
full of genuine fun.

The fantastic is half brother to the burlesque. Each implies some
original as a point of departure, and as a scheme for treatment some
framework upon which the author's wit and fancy shall be lavished.

It is in the region of the fantastic that Stevenson loved to wander,
and it is in this direction that he expended his marvellous ingenuity.
His fairy tales and arabesques must be read as they were written, in the
humor of forty fancies and without any heavy-fisted intention of getting
new ideas about life. It will be said that the defect of Stevenson is
expressed by these very qualities, fancy and ingenuity, because they are
contradictory, and the second destroys the first. Be this as it may,
there are many people whose pleasure is not spoiled by elaboration and
filigree work.

Our ability to follow Stevenson in his fantasias depends very largely
upon how far our imaginations and our sentimental interests are
dissociated from our interest in real life. Commonplace and common-sense
people, whose emotional natures are not strongly at play in the conduct
of their daily lives, have a fund of unexpended mental activity, of a
very low degree of energy, which delights to be occupied with the unreal
and the impossible. More than this, any mind which is daily occupied in
an attempt to grasp some of the true relations governing things as they
are, finds its natural relaxation in the contemplation of things as they
are not,--things as they cannot be. There is probably no one who will
not find himself thoroughly enjoying the fantastic, if he be mentally
fatigued enough. Hence the justification of a whole branch of
Stevenson's work.

After every detraction has been allowed for, there remain certain books
of Stevenson's of an extraordinary and peculiar merit, books which can
hardly be classed as imitations or arabesques,--Kidnapped, Weir of
Hermiston, The Merry Men. These books seem at first blush to have every
element of greatness, except spontaneity. The only trouble is, they are
too perfect.

If, after finishing Kidnapped, or The Merry Men, we take up Guy
Mannering, or The Antiquary, or any of Scott's books which treat of the
peasantry, the first impression we gain is, that we are happy. The
tension is gone; we are in contact with a great, sunny, benign human
being who pours a flood of life out before us and floats us as the sea
floats a chip. He is full of old-fashioned and absurd passages.
Sometimes he proses, and sometimes he runs to seed. He is so careless of
his English that his sentences are not always grammatical; but we get a
total impression of glorious and wholesome life.

It is the man Walter Scott who thus excites us. This heather, these
hills, these peasants, this prodigality and vigor and broad humor,
enlarge and strengthen us. If we return now to Weir of Hermiston, we
seem to be entering the cell of an alchemist. All is intention, all
calculation. The very style of Weir of Hermiston is English ten times

Let us imagine that directness and unconsciousness are the great
qualities of style, and that Stevenson believes this. The greatest
directness and unconsciousness of which Stevenson himself was capable
are to be found in some of his early writings. Across the Plains, for
instance, represents his most straightforward and natural style. But it
happens that certain great writers who lived some time ago, and were
famous examples of "directness," have expressed themselves in the speech
of their own period. Stevenson rejects his own style as not good enough
for him, not direct enough, not unconscious enough; he will have theirs.
And so he goes out in quest of purity and truth, and brings home an
elaborate archaism.

Although we think of Stevenson as a writer of fiction, his extreme
popularity is due in great measure to his innumerable essays and bits
of biography and autobiography, his letters, his journals, and travels
and miscellaneous reminiscences.

It was his own belief that he was a very painstaking and conscientious
artist, and this is true to a great extent. On the day of his death he
was engaged upon the most highly organized and ambitious thing he ever
attempted, and every line of it shows the hand of an engraver on steel.
But it is also true that during the last years of his life he lived
under the pressure of photographers and newspaper syndicates, who came
to him with great sums of money in their hands. He was exploited by the
press of the United States, and this is the severest ordeal which a
writer of English can pass through. There was one year in which he
earned four thousand pounds. His immeasurable generosity kept him
forever under the harrow in money matters, and added another burden to
the weight carried by this dying and indomitable man. It is no wonder
that some of his work is trivial. The wonder is that he should have
produced it at all.

The journalistic work of Stevenson, beginning with his Inland Voyage,
and the letters afterwards published as Across the Plains, is valuable
in the inverse ratio to its embellishment. Sidney Colvin suggested to
him that in the letters Across the Plains the lights were turned down.
But, in truth, the light is daylight. The letters have a freshness that
midnight oil could not have improved, and this fugitive sketch is of
more permanent interest than all the polite essays he ever wrote.

If we compare the earlier with the later work of Stevenson as a magazine
writer, we are struck with the accentuation of his mannerisms. It is not
a single style which grows more intense, but his amazing skill in many
which has increased.

The following is a specimen of Stevenson's natural style, and it would
be hard to find a better:--

  "The day faded; the lamps were lit; a party of wild young men, who
  got off next evening at North Platte, stood together on the stern
  platform singing The Sweet By-and-By with very tuneful voices; the
  chums began to put up their beds; and it seemed as if the business
  of the day were at an end. But it was not so; for the train stopping
  at some station, the cars were instantly thronged with the natives,
  wives and fathers, young men and maidens, some of them in little
  more than night-gear, some with stable lanterns, and all offering
  beds for sale."

The following is from an essay written by Stevenson while under the
influence of the author of Rab and his Friends.

  "One such face I now remember; one such blank some half a dozen of
  us labor to dissemble. In his youth he was a most beautiful person,
  most serene and genial by disposition, full of racy words and quaint
  thoughts. Laughter attended on his coming.... From this disaster
  like a spent swimmer he came desperately ashore, bankrupt of money
  and consideration; creeping to the family he had deserted; with
  broken wing never more to rise. But in his face there was the light
  of knowledge that was new to it. Of the wounds of his body he was
  never healed; died of them gradually, with clear-eyed resignation.
  Of his wounded pride we knew only by his silence."

The following is in the sprightly style of the eighteenth century:--

  "Cockshot is a different article, but vastly entertaining, and has
  been meat and drink to me for many a long evening. His manner is
  dry, brisk, and pertinacious, and the choice of words not much. The
  point about him is his extraordinary readiness and spirit. You can
  propound nothing but he has either a theory about it ready made or
  will have one instantly on the stocks, and proceed to lay its
  timbers and launch it on the minute. 'Let me see,' he will say,
  'give me a moment, I should have some theory for that.'"

But for serious matters this manner would never do, and accordingly we
find that, when the subject invites him, Stevenson falls into English as
early as the time of James I.

Let us imagine Bacon dedicating one of his smaller works to his

  "There are men and classes of men that stand above the common herd:
  the soldier, the sailor, and the shepherd not unfrequently; the
  artist rarely; rarelier still the clergyman; the physician almost as
  a rule.... I forget as many as I remember and I ask both to pardon
  me, these for silence, those for inadequate speech."

After finishing off this dedication to his satisfaction, Stevenson turns
over the page and writes a NOTE in the language of two and one-half
centuries later. He is now the elegant _littérateur_ of the last
generation--one would say James Russell Lowell:--

  "The human conscience has fled of late the troublesome domain of
  conduct for what I should have supposed to be the less congenial
  field of art: there she may now be said to rage, and with special
  severity in all that touches dialect, so that in every novel the
  letters of the alphabet are tortured, and the reader wearied, to
  commemorate shades of mispronunciation."

But in this last extract we are still three degrees away from what can
be done in the line of gentility and delicate effeteness of style. Take
the following, which is the very peach-blow of courtesy:--

  "But upon one point there should be no dubiety: if a man be not
  frugal he has no business in the arts. If he be not frugal he steers
  directly for that last tragic scene of _le vieux saltimbanque_; if
  he be not frugal he will find it hard to continue to be honest. Some
  day when the butcher is knocking at the door he may be tempted, he
  may be obliged to turn out and sell a slovenly piece of work. If the
  obligation shall have arisen through no wantonness of his own, he is
  even to be commended, for words cannot describe how far more
  necessary it is that a man should support his family than that he
  should attain to--or preserve--distinction in the arts," etc.

Now the very next essay to this is a sort of intoned voluntary played
upon the more sombre emotions.

  "What a monstrous spectre is this man, the disease of the
  agglutinated dust, lifting alternate feet or lying drugged in
  slumber; killing, feeding, growing, bringing forth small copies of
  himself; grown upon with hair like grass, fitted with eyes that move
  and glitter in his face; a thing to set children screaming;--and yet
  looked at nearlier, known as his fellows know him, how surprising
  are his attributes."

There is a tincture of Carlyle in this mixture. There are a good many
pages of Gothic type in the later essays, for Stevenson thought it the
proper tone in which to speak of death, duty, immortality, and such
subjects as that. He derived this impression from the works of Sir
Thomas Browne. But the solemnity of Sir Thomas Browne is like a
melodious thunder, deep, sweet, unconscious, ravishing.

  "Time sadly overcometh all things and is now dominant and sitteth
  upon a sphinx and looketh upon Memphis and old Thebes, while his
  sister Oblivion reclineth semi-somnous upon a pyramid, gloriously
  triumphing, making puzzles of Titanian erections, and turning old
  glories into dreams. History sinketh beneath her cloud. The
  traveller as he passeth through these deserts asketh of her 'who
  builded them?' And she mumbleth something, but what it is he heareth

The frenzy to produce something like this sadly overcomes Stevenson, in
his later essays. But perhaps it were to reason too curiously to pin
Stevenson down to Browne. All the old masters stalk like spectres
through his pages, and among them are the shades of the moderns, even
men that we have dined with.

According to Stevenson, a certain kind of subject requires a certain
"treatment," and the choice of his tone follows his title. These
"treatments" are always traditional, and even his titles tread closely
on the heels of former titles. He can write the style of Charles Lamb
better than Lamb could do it himself, and his Hazlitt is very nearly as
good. He fences with his left hand as well as with his right, and can
manage two styles at once like Franz Liszt playing the allegretto from
the 7th symphony with an air of Offenbach twined about it.

It is with a pang of disappointment that we now and then come across a
style which we recognize, yet cannot place.

People who take enjoyment in the reminiscences awakened by conjuring of
this kind can nowhere in the world find a master like Stevenson. Those
persons belong to the bookish classes. Their numbers are insignificant,
but they are important because they give countenance to the admiration
of others who love Stevenson with their hearts and souls.

The reason why Stevenson represents a backward movement in literature,
is that literature lives by the pouring into it of new words from
speech, and new thoughts from life, and Stevenson used all his powers to
exclude both from his work. He lived and wrote in the past. That this
Scotchman should appear at the end of what has been a very great period
of English literature, and summarize the whole of it in his two hours'
traffic on the stage, gives him a strange place in the history of that
literature. He is the Improvisatore, and nothing more. It is impossible
to assign him rank in any line of writing. If you shut your eyes to try
and place him, you find that you cannot do it. The effect he produces
while we are reading him vanishes as we lay down the book, and we can
recall nothing but a succession of flavors. It is not to be expected
that posterity will take much interest in him, for his point and meaning
are impressional. He is ephemeral, a shadow, a reflection. He is the
mistletoe of English literature whose roots are not in the soil but in
the tree.

But enough of the nature and training of Stevenson which fitted him to
play the part he did. The cyclonic force which turned him from a
secondary London novelist into something of importance and enabled him
to give full play to his really unprecedented talents will be recognized
on glancing about us.

We are now passing through the age of the Distribution of Knowledge. The
spread of the English-speaking race since 1850, and the cheapness of
printing, have brought in primers and handbooks by the million. All the
books of the older literatures are being abstracted and sown abroad in
popular editions. The magazines fulfil the same function; every one of
them is a penny cyclopedia. Andrew Lang heads an army of organized
workers who mine in the old literature and coin it into booklets and

The American market rules the supply of light literature in Great
Britain. While Lang culls us tales and legends and lyrics from the Norse
or Provensal, Stevenson will engage to supply us with tales and legends
of his own--something just as good. The two men serve the same public.

Stevenson's reputation in England was that of a comparatively light
weight, but his success here was immediate. We hailed him as a
classic--or something just as good. Everything he did had the very stamp
and trademark of Letters, and he was as strong in one department as
another. We loved this man; and thenceforward he purveyed "literature"
to us at a rate to feed sixty millions of people and keep them clamoring
for more.

Does any one believe that the passion of the American people for
learning and for antiquity is a slight and accidental thing? Does any
one believe that the taste for imitation old furniture is a pose? It
creates an eddy in the Maelstrom of Commerce. It is a power like
Niagara, and represents the sincere appreciation of half educated people
for second rate things. There is here nothing to be ashamed of. In fact
there is everything to be proud of in this progress of the arts, this
importation of culture by the carload. The state of mind it shows is a
definite and typical state of mind which each individual passes through,
and which precedes the discovery that real things are better than sham.
When the latest Palace Hotel orders a hundred thousand dollars' worth of
Louis XV. furniture to be made--and most well made--in Buffalo, and when
the American public gives Stevenson an order for Pulvis et Umbra--the
same forces are at work in each case. It is Chicago making culture hum.

And what kind of a man was Stevenson? Whatever may be said about his
imitativeness, his good spirits were real. They are at the bottom of his
success, the strong note in his work. They account for all that is
paradoxical in his effect. He often displays a sentimentalism which has
not the ring of reality. And yet we do not reproach him. He has by
stating his artistic doctrines in their frankest form revealed the
scepticism inherent in them. And yet we know that he was not a sceptic;
on the contrary, we like him, and he was regarded by his friends as
little lower than the angels.

Why is it that we refuse to judge him by his own utterances? The reason
is that all of his writing is playful, and we know it. The instinct at
the bottom of all mimicry is self-concealment. Hence the illusive and
questionable personality of Stevenson. Hence our blind struggle to bind
this Proteus who turns into bright fire and then into running water
under our hands. The truth is that as a literary force, there was no
such man as Stevenson; and after we have racked our brains to find out
the mechanism which has been vanquishing the chess players of Europe,
there emerges out of the Box of Maelzel a pale boy.

But the courage of this boy, the heroism of his life, illumine all his
works with a personal interest. The last ten years of his life present a
long battle with death.

We read of his illnesses, his spirit; we hear how he never gave up, but
continued his works by dictation and in dumb show when he was too weak
to hold the pen, too weak to speak. This courage and the lovable nature
of Stevenson won the world's heart. He was regarded with a peculiar
tenderness such as is usually given only to the young. Honor, and
admiration mingled with affection followed him to his grave. Whatever
his artistic doctrines, he revealed his spiritual nature in his work. It
was this nature which made him thus beloved.

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