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whether in college-hall or on frontier outpost, began to feel the quickening impulse of this seer, whose doctrine was the doctrine of “plain living and high thinking.” The circle of his inspiration widened with the years; he came to be understood and loved; and when on a spring day of 1882 he died, it was felt that there had passed away one of the finest spirits that ever took on the garb of flesh.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born May 28, 1803, in Boston, where his father, Rev. William Emerson, was pastor of the First Congregational Church. If there is any thing in hereditary influence that prophesies a man's career, Emerson was marked out for the ministry, seeing that for eight generations there had been a clergyman in the family, either on the paternal or maternal side. His father, previously to his removal to Boston, had been pastor of a flock in Concord; and when he died, the lad Ralph Waldo, then seven years old, was taken to that town, and lived in the old manse from the study-window of which his father had witnessed the Concord fight.
After receiving his scholastic training at Harvard College, from which he was graduated in 1821, Emerson entered the Divinity School, and on the completion of his studies began the ancestral profession. In 1826 he was " approbated to preach,” and from 1829 to 1832 he was colleague of Henry Ware of the Second Unitarian Church of Boston; but then his ministerial career closed, and he quitted the pulpit to devote himself to a life of thought and letters.
When he was thirty years old Emerson made his
first visit to England. Writing later of this visit he says, “It was mainly the attraction of three or four writers, of whom Carlyle was one, that led me to Europe.” That great man, then unknown and unrecognized, was nourishing his mighty genius in a lonely cottage on the heathery hill-side of a Scottish hamlet. Thither Emerson turned aside to find the hermit student; and there began that friendship which lasted during the lifetime of the two men, and gave rise to one of the most interesting interchanges of correspondence in literary history. “I shall never forget the visitor," wrote Mrs. Carlyle long afterwards, “who years ago in the desert descended on us out of the clouds, as it were, and made one day there look like enchantment for us, and left me weeping that it was only one day.”
On his return from Europe Emerson fixed his residence at Concord, where in his “sylvan home” he led a quiet, retired, meditative life, cheered and sustained by the love, honor, and reverence of his townsmen. Here and thus it was he passed the subsequent fortyseven years of his life, the even tenor of which was interrupted only by his winter lecture-tours. For it was as a lecturer that he found his true vocation; and even his books were for the most part the fruit of meditations first given forth to living audiences.
Lovers and companions, too, he had in Concord, - the beautiful-souled Channing; Thoreau, the diviner of bird and plant; Orphic Alcott; the sibyl spirit of Margaret Fuller; and Hawthorne, with his weird imaginings: while, as his fame enlarged, Concord became the
shrine of many a pilgrim from afar, drawn thither by his fine influence.
As old age crept on, the sage showed decay of his fine powers. Of this Emerson was conscious, and some months before his death he made the sad, sweet utterance, “ When one's wits begin to leave him, it is time the heavens opened and took him to themselves.” And so it was they opened for him in a spring morning of 1882, when he was laid away by the side of loved ones in the little churchyard of Concord.
In person Emerson was tall and slender, with the mien and bearing of the scholar, —“the scholar beloved of earth and heaven.” His fine, clean-cut countenance clearly revealed the dual nature of the man, - his poetic temperament and his practical acuteness. In the fine art of manners he was the ideal of high courtesy. No one who ever saw him can forget his gracious and dignified presence, his pensive smile that bespoke a heart always open to pity, or the charm of lis winning voice so charged with subtile meaning and subtile music.
Intellectually he may best be characterized as a poetphilosopher, standing as he did on the height where poetry and philosophy meet. He felt it no part of his calling to build up an intellectual system or creed; and paid little heed to literal consistency, believing that man's spirit should be ever open to new influx from the upper sphere of thought. Insight, not reasoning, was his process; and his mission was to inspire rather than to indoctrinate. In a word, he belonged to the priesthood of the seers, having what Wordsworth calls
“the eye made gentle by the power of harmony,” which could “ see into the life of things."
It should be remarked, that though Emerson's habits were those of a scholar and a man of letters, he had a sympathy with humanity: every earnest movement for the welfare of mankind had his heartfelt support.
With the exception of one work, English Traits, which may be called the note-book of a philosophic observer, Emerson's prose productions belong to but two classes,
– the lecture or oration, and the essay; and, as has already been said, the books themselves were but lectures and essays reduced to volume form. His first publication was a small volume entitled Nature (1836), which by its depth of thought and beauty of expression allured many readers into becoming disciples. Subsequent prose writings were his two series of essays (1841-1844), containing his papers on Compensation, Heroism, The Over-Soul, and other lofty themes; Representative Men (1850), a gallery of masterly mental portraits; with The Conduct of Life (1860), and Society and Solitude (1870)
His poetry is much less in quantity than his prose. Originally appearing in two small volumes (the first in 1847, the next twenty years later), it was by himself finally sifted into one small collection.
Emerson's style is as unique as his thought, of which it is the clear, transparent mirror. The aphoristic cast of his ideas finds expression in short and pithy sentences wrought with extremest economy of words, and perfect finish of form. His best sentences are indeed "apples of gold in pictures of silver;" and his prose
and poetry both abound in sentiments that have the luster of the diamond. It has sometimes been objected, that the extreme condensation of his thought results in obscurity of expression. But this can only trouble heedless readers, for his phraseology itself is as simple as Bunyan's or DeFoe's. Says Lowell, “A diction at once so rich and so homely as his, I know not where to match in these days of writing by the page; it is like home-spun cloth of gold. The many can not miss its meaning, and only the few can find it. It is the open secret of all true genius.”
1. – NATURE.
[The following is an extract from the little book called Nature, the first clear exhibition of Emerson's genius. On its receipt Carlyle wrote: “ Nature gave me true satisfaction. It is the foundation and ground-plan on which you may build whatsoever of great and true has been given you to build. I rejoice much in the glad serenity of soul with which you look out on this wondrous dwelling-place of yours and mine."']
THERE are days1 which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection; when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth, make a harmony, as if nature would indulge her offspring; when, in these bleak
1 There are days . thoughts. I tence? Emerson's style is specially Note that the first paragraph con- characterized by the use of short sists of but one sentence. To which sentences; but this, it will be seen, type does this sentence belong, - is an exception. simple, complex, or compound? 2 this climate: that of Concord, Rhetorically, - period or loose sen- | Mass.