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'actor' who in the 'universal imbecility, indecision, ' and indolence of men' knows how to take occasion by the beard. His life is an answer to cowardly doubts. Emerson calls Napoleon the agent or 'attorney of the middle class of modern society.' It was he who showed what could be done by the use of common virtues. His experiment failed because he had a selfish and sensual aim. In the last analysis Napoleon was not a gentleman.
Goethe is the other phase of the genius of the age. There is a provision for the writer in the scheme of things. Nature insists on being reported. To Man the universe is something to be recorded. The instinct exists in different degrees. One has
the power to see connection where the multi'tude sees fragments.' Lift this faculty to a high degree and you have the great German poet who well-nigh restored literature to its primal significance. There must be a man behind the book.' 'The old Eternal Genius who built the world has 'confided himself more to this man than any other.' Goethe is the type of culture. Here, too, is his defect. For his devotion is not to pure truth, but to truth for the sake of culture.
Representative Men was succeeded by English Traits, a volume in which Emerson taught his countrymen more about England than they had hitherto known or fancied. Histories, statistical reports, treatises on British art and British manufactures, are useful and sometimes dreary reading;
they give us facts heaped on facts. It is a relief to put them down and take up English Traits in order to learn what we have been reading about.
Through Emerson's eyes we can see this little island a prize for the best race,' its singular people, chained to their logic, willing to kiss the dust 'before a fact,' strong in their sense of brotherhood, yet fond each of his own way, incommunicable, 'in short every one of these islanders an 'island in himself.' They have a 'superfluity of 'self-regard' - which is a secret of their power; they are assertive, crotchety, wholly forgetful of ' a cardinal article in the bill of social rights,' that every man has a right to his own ears;' nevertheless Emerson concludes (and an Englishman would assure him no other conclusion was possible) they are the best stock in the world. Here is the typical islander as Emerson paints him. 'He is a churl with a soft place in his heart, whose speech is a brash of bitter waters, but who loves 'to help you at a pinch. He says no, and serves 'you, and your thanks disgust him.'
There are paragraphs and chapters on the Aristocracy, the Universities, Religion, Literature, and the Press, that is, the Times.' Every page glitters with wit. Every apothegm contains the full proportion of truth and untruth which sayings of that sort are wont to contain. Says Emerson : The gospel the Anglican church preaches is, By taste are ye saved.”
Yet the more one re
flects on this monstrous statement, the more is he astonished at the amount of truth in it.
The volume entitled Conduct of Life has a fine rough vigor. Here are displayed to advantage Emerson's robust habit of mind, searching analysis, vivacity and picturesqueness of expression, epigrammatic skill, homely plain sense, and lofty idealism. The first essay, 'Fate,' is an energetic and striking performance. One needs the optimism of its last paragraphs to counteract the grim terror of the earlier ones. Seldom has the relentless ferocity of Circumstance, Fate, Environment, been set forth in terms equally emphatic. The companion essay, 'Power,' is a study of the influence of brute force (and its compensations) in life and history. Emerson shows the value of the 'bruiser' in politics, trade, and in society. This leads to the third subject, 'Wealth.' Money must be had if only to buy bread. Nature insults the man who will not work. She starves, taunts, ' and torments him, takes away warmth, laughter, 'sleep, friends and daylight, until he has fought 'his way to his own loaf.' But what men of sense want is power, mastery, not candy; they esteem wealth to be the assimilation of nature to them'selves.'
To all this there must be a corrective; it is discussed in the essay on 'Culture.' Nature ruins a man to gain her ends, makes him strong in things she wants done, weak otherwise, and then robs him
of his sense of proportion so that he becomes an egotist. Culture restores the balance. Culture rescues a man from himself, ‘kills his exaggera'tion.' The simpler means to it are books, travel, society, solitude; and there are nobler ones, not the least of which is adversity. The discussion is continued in the practical essay on 'Behavior' and lifted to the highest plane in the essay on 'Worship.' The whole state of man is a state of culture, and its flowering and completion may be 'described as Religion or Worship.' For all its beauty this chapter will not please many people. They may take refuge in Considerations by the 'Way,' which shows the 'good of evil,' or in the fine essay on 'Beauty' or the ironical little closing piece called Illusions.'
MANY paragraphs in Nature and the Essays struggle in their prose environment as if seeking a higher medium of expression. Emerson's command of poetic materials was extraordinary, though it fails to justify the claims sometimes made for him. He could be wilfully careless in respect to technique. There are moments when no cacophonous combination terrifies him. Then will he say his say though the language creak.
He had published freely in The Dial,' where he met his own little audience, but when the question arose of putting his verses in the pretentious form of a book Emerson hesitated. Only after much deliberation, continued through four years, did he come finally to a decision.
His capital theme is Nature, 'the inscrutable 'and mute.' 'Woodnotes,' 'Monadnock,' 'May'Day,' 'My Garden,' 'Sea-Shore,' 'Song of Na'ture,' 'Nature,' 'The Snow Storm,' 'Waldein'samkeit,' ' Musketaquit,' 'The Adirondacs,' are varied renderings of the subject. Among the lines which haunt the memory, take for example this description of the sea :
Purger of earth, and medicine of men;
Creating a sweet climate by my breath,
Giving a hint of that which changes not.
Splendid imagery and rich coloring mark the fine passages in May-Day' describing the advance of summer:
As poured the flood of the ancient sea
Bending forests as bends the sedge,
A world-wide wave with a foaming edge
Drugging herbs with Syrian spices,