Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson (eds), The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1843–1871, Vol. 1: 1843–1854
pg 81"Discourse Read Before the Philomathesian Societyof Middlebury College in Vermont,22 July 1845"and"Discourse Read Before the Philorhetorianand Peithologian Societies ofWesleyan College in Connecticut,6 August 1845"——————————————————————————————
Emerson delivered his untitled discourse before the Philomathesian Society of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont, on 22 July 1845, substantially repeating it on 6 August before the Philorhetorian and Peithologian Societies of Wesleyan College in Middletown, Connecticut. This lecture has never been published.
As was the usual case with Emerson's college discourses of this period, the initial inquiry came from students, not faculty. The Philomathesian (Lovers of Learning) Society was a group whose interests, at least as reﬂected in the contents of its library relative to that of the college, were "far more radical" ([Bob Buckeye], "Emerson and Middlebury," Friends of the Middlebury College Library Newsletter, no. 2 [Fall 1987]: 1). Silas G. Randall wrote Emerson on 14 November 1844 (bMS Am 1280 , Houghton Library), inviting him to address the group the following July, and Emerson replied on the twenty-ﬁfth that he found the invitation "very agreeable" but could not reply for "three or four weeks" (Letters, 7:615). Emerson talked the day before ofﬁcial commencement exercises, and the Society formally resolved to send its "thanks . . . to Mr. Emerson for his able & eloquent address" and requested "a copy of the address . . . for publication" (manuscript records of the Philomathesian Society, Middlebury College Library). He received $20 for expenses for the occasion ("Account Books").
Although Emerson described the discourse as "rather grave & cold" (Letters, 8:38), contemporary accounts indicate that it did generate some heat. The Northern Galaxy noted that "the manner and style of Mr. Emerson is highly cultivated and polished. His address was of the high transcendental character; and whatever may be said of its literary merits, we know that many christian hearts were pained at some expressions which were nothing short of pantheistic atheism"; fortunately, this writer could deal more favorably with the other address of the day, Dr. Joel Parker's "clear, practical and philosophical discussion of the principles of True Philanthropy" ("Middlebury College," 30 July 1845). pg 82As usual, Horace Greeley's New-York Daily Tribune proved a sympathetic forum for Emerson, here with a letter from "N. S. N.," who commented that "notwithstanding the prejudices entertained in this region with regard to the peculiar views of the Transcendentalists, the earnest and eloquent exposition of the 'natural functions of the scholar and educated man,' . . . was listened to with an intensity of interest and pleasure, rarely observed on such an occasion" ("Correspondence of the Tribune," 4 August 1845, 2).
Emerson had been invited to appear at Middletown in early February by a student, Daniel Martindale, after both Rufus Choate and Orville Dewey declined because of health problems (this and other information are drawn from Kenneth Walter Cameron, "Emerson at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut," Emerson Society Quarterly, no. 11 [2nd quarter 1958]: 55–62). Writing to James Elliot Cabot on 3 August, Emerson noted, "I have been making a literary speech to the students of Middlebury College, & have now a similar errand this week at Middletown" (Letters, 3:293). Four days later he wrote Lidian of making his "speech, which passed very well, & certainly was all the better for having had a rehearsal at Middlebury"; he continued: "The young men asked a copy for printing, and I then told them its history, & found I was telling them no news, for the New-York Tribune [4 August] had already told them of the oration in Vermont & its subject. Well I assured them that the oration was now enlarged & retrenched for them, & if I printed it I would do it on my own charge & they might order any copies they pleased" (Letters, 3:294–95). Emerson considered "a part of the Middletown discourse, which was special to the occasion & to the condition of the societies," written especially for this delivery, but this is not evident from the manuscript (Letters, 8:77). He received $30 for his address but returned $10 to the Philorhetorian Society for the purchase of books ("Account Books").
Emerson's address, which was delivered late in the afternoon after the commencement exercises, was positively viewed by the local paper, the Constitution, which wrote that his "excellent address" was "received with much favor" (13 August 1845). Indeed, in recalling the event years later, one of the graduates described how "Emerson went on in his sphinxian way, looking serenely into the Inﬁnite, while his enigmatic utterances dropped like bombs right and left," and how the governor of the state "sat open-mouthed and utterly bewildered," but the president of the college, Stephen Olin, was convulsed with laughter and "roared by ﬁts, like a blowing whale" (F. H. Newhall, "Emerson among the Methodists," Zion's Herald; reprinted in Springﬁeld Daily Republican, 31 October 1876, 3).
Subsequent responses were not as positive. The Albany Religious Spectator complained about Transcendentalism in general and of Emerson's hour-long "dreamy, and unintelligible speculations," noting that "shortly after, an aged minister [Stephen Martindale], who had never lived in any other than a world of common sense realities, was called upon to pray, and he devoutly thanked God that the Bible . . . was worth more than all the idealism and transcendentalism in the world" (reprinted in the Calendar, 23 August 1845, 135; reprinted in Kenneth Walter Cameron, "Emerson's Lecture at Wesleyan in 1845: What or Who Went Wrong?" American Renaissance Literary Report 11 : 267). Writing in 1882, Alexander Ireland described the scene after Emerson's address thus:
Then arose a Massachusetts minister, who stepped into the pulpit Mr. Emerson had just left, and uttered a remarkable prayer, of which this was one sentence: "We pg 83beseech Thee, O Lord, to deliver us from ever hearing any more such transcendental nonsense as we have just listened to from this sacred desk." After the benediction, Mr. Emerson asked his next neighbor the name of the ofﬁciating clergyman, and when falteringly answered, with gentle simplicity remarked: "He seemed a very conscientious, plain-spoken man," and went on his peaceful way. (Ralph Waldo Emerson: His Life, Genius, and Writings, 2d ed. [London: Simpkin, Marshall, 1882], 299–300)
A similar story but placed with the events surrounding the delivery of "The Method of Nature" (1841) at Waterville, Maine, is reported by Edwin Percy Whipple, who says Emerson concluded his tale with these words: "The address was really written in the heat and happiness of what I thought was a real inspiration; but all the warmth was extinguished in that lake of iced water" (Recollections of Eminent Men [Boston: Ticknor, 1887], 146).
Even though the college's president, Stephen Olin, wrote Emerson that he had listened with "pleasure and admiration," he went on to say, "You of course know that with my religious views I cannot embrace some of your opinions." He was especially concerned that some of Emerson's statements would "give much pain to many of our patrons if published just as you delivered them and so inﬂict serious injury on our Institution." Fearing controversy, Olin asked Emerson to "modify your discourse by omitting a few brief passages so very likely to incense our religious friends & so to create prejudices against us as a college" (8 August 1845, bMS Am 1280 , Houghton Library). Emerson replied, "I can easily believe that there were some petulances of expression which a more considerate taste would correct. I doubt not that I can remove some expressions that may have disturbed some of your friends and perhaps thereby improve the ﬁtness & the truth of the piece" (Letters, 3:296). The following year, on 10 June, he wrote Daniel Martindale again, noting that while he had originally held off printing the address because there were "some pages in the discourse concerning the 'practical' & the 'speculative man' which seemed to me incomplete," he had by then used enough of the address in his Representative Men lecture series that separate publication was no longer possible (Letters, 8:76–77; he had notiﬁed the Philomathesian Society of his refusal to print the address by October 1845, as indicated in the Society's manuscript records at Middlebury College).
Along with Emerson's "Address" delivered before the Adelphic Union of Williamstown College on 15 August 1854 and before the Social Union at Amherst College on 8 August 1855 and "The Scholar" (1863), Cabot, with Ellen Emerson's assistance, mined this lecture for major portions of an address Emerson delivered at the University of Virginia in 1876. Cabot eventually printed that address as "The Scholar" in Lectures and Biographical Sketches in 1884 (see W, 10:259–89).
The Athenians took an oath on a certain crisis in their affairs to esteem wheat, the vine, and the olive, as the boundaries of Attica. The territory of scholars is yet larger. A stranger but yesterday to every person present, I ﬁnd myself pg 84already at home; for the society of lettered men is an university which does not bound itself with the walls of one cloister or college, but gathers in the distant and solitary student into its strictest amity. Literary men gladly acknowledge these ties, which ﬁnd for the homeless and the solitary a welcome where least looked for. But in proportion as we are conversant with the laws of life, we have seen the like: we are used to these surprises. This is but one operation of a more general law. As in coming among strange faces, we ﬁnd that the love of letters makes us friends, so in strange thoughts, in the worldly habits which harden us, we ﬁnd with some surprise that learning, and truth, and beauty have not let us go; that the spiritual nature is too strong for us; that those excellent inﬂuences which men in all ages have designated by the term Muse, or by some kindred name, come in to keep us warm and true; that the face of nature remains irresistibly alluring. We have strayed far from the territorial monuments of Attica, but here still are wheat, and olives, and the vine.
I do not now refer to that intellectual conscience which forms itself in tender natures, and gives us many twinges for our sloth and unfaithfulness:—the inﬂuence I speak of is of a higher strain. Stung by this intellectual conscience, we go to measure our tasks as scholars, and screw ourselves up to energy and ﬁdelity, and our sadness is suddenly overshone by a sympathy of blessing. Beauty, the inspirer, the cheerful festal principle, the leader of gods and men, which draws by being beautiful, and not by considerations of advantage, comes in and puts a new face on the world. I think the peculiar ofﬁce of scholars in a careful and gloomy generation, is to be, as the poets were called in the Middle Ages, Professors of the Joyous Science, detectors and delineators of occult symmetries and unpublished beauties, heralds of civility, nobility, learning, and wisdom: afﬁrmers of the One Law, yet as those who should afﬁrm it in music and dancing: Expressors themselves of that ﬁrm and cheerful temper,—inﬁnitely removed from sadness,—which reigns through the kingdoms of chemistry, vegetation, and animal life. Every natural power exhilarates: A true talent delights the possessor ﬁrst. A celebrated musician was wont to say, that men knew not how much more he delighted himself with his playing, than he did others, for if they knew, his hearers would rather demand of him, than give him a reward. The scholar is here to ﬁll others with love and courage, by conﬁrming their trust in the love and wisdom which are at the heart of all things; to afﬁrm noble sentiments; to hear them wherever spoken, out of the deeps of ages, out of the obscurities of barbarous life, and to republish them:—to untune nobody, but to draw all men after the truth; and to keep the world spiritual and sweet.
I ﬁnd a provision in the constitution of the world for the class of scholars, for the theorist, the uniter, for him who is to show identity and connexion where men see nothing but fragments, and to supply the axis on which the frame pg 85of things turns. In all the tastes and endeavors of men in reference to all that is permanent and causal, we are made to feel that nature has dearly at heart the formation of the speculative man or scholar. It is an end never lost sight of, and is prepared in the original casting of things. There is a certain heat in the breast which attends the perception of a primary truth, which is the shining of the spiritual sun down into the shaft of the mine. Nature will be expressed. Whatever can be thought can be spoken, and still rises for utterance, though to rude and stammering organs. If they cannot say it, it waits, waits and works, until, at last, it moulds them to its perfect will, and is articulated.
This, Gentlemen, is the topic on which I shall speak,—the natural and permanent functions of the scholar, as he is no permissive or accidental appearance, but an organic agent in nature. He is here to be the beholder of the real; self-centered amidst the superﬁcial; here to revere the dominion of a serene necessity, and be its pupil and apprentice, by tracing everything home to a cause: here to be sobered, not by the cares of life, as men say,—no, but by the depth of his draughts of the cup of immortality.
One is tempted to afﬁrm the ofﬁce and attributes of the scholar a little the more eagerly, because of a frequent perversity of the class itself. Men are ashamed of their intellect. The men committed by profession, as well as by bias, to study,—the clergyman, the chemist, the astronomer, the metaphysician, the poet,—talk hard and worldly, and share the infatuation of cities. The poet and the citizen perfectly agree in conversation on the wise life. The poet counsels his own son as if he were a merchant. The poet with poets betrays no amiable weakness. They all chime in, and are as inexorable as bankers on the subject of real life. They have no toleration for literature,—it is all dilettantism, and disgusts: not Napoleon hated ideologists worse than they. Art is only a ﬁne word for appearance, in default of matter.—And they sit white over their stoves, and talk themselves hoarse over the mischief of books and the effeminacy of bookmakers. But, at a single strain of a bugle out of a grove; at the dashing among the stones, of a brook from the hills; at the sound of some subtle word that falls from the lips of an imaginative person, or even at the reading in solitude of some moving image of a wise poet,—this grave conclusion is blown out of memory; the sun shines, and the worlds roll to music, and the poet replaces all this cowardly self-denial and God-denial of the literary class, with the conviction, that, to one poetic success, the world will surrender on its knees. Instantly, he casts in his lot with the pearl-diver and the diamond-merchant. Like them, he will joyfully lose days, and months, and estates, and credit in the profound hope that one restoring, all-rewarding, immense success will arrive at last, which will give him at one bound an universal dominion. And rightly: for, if his wild prayers are granted, if he is to succeed, his achievement is the piercing of the brass heavens of use and limi-pg 86tation, and letting in a beam of the pure eternity which burns up this limbo of shadows and chimæras in which we dwell. Yes, nature is too strong for us; she will not be denied; she has balsams for our hurts, and hellebores for our insanities; she does not bandy words with us, but comes in with a new ravishing experience and makes the old time ridiculous. Every poet knows the unspeakable hope, and represents its audacity, by throwing it out of all probability in his conversation.
Society at all times has the same want, namely, of one sane man with adequate powers of expression to hold up each new object of monomania in its right relations. The ambitious and mercenary bring their last new mumbo-jumbo, whether it be tariff, or Texas, or mesmerism, or phrenology, or Antimasonry, or Romanism, or railroads, and, by detaching the object from its relations, easily succeed in making it seen in a glare, and a multitude go mad about it, and they are not to be reproved or cured by the opposite multitude who are kept from this particular insanity by an equal frenzy on another crotchet. But let one man have so comprehensive an eye, that he can replace this isolated prodigy in its right neighborhood and bearings, it loses instantly all illusion, and the returning reason of the community thanks the reason of the monitor.
But, as froward boys turn on their tutors, there is always a certain ridicule among superﬁcial people thrown on the scholars or clerisy, which is of no import, unless the scholar heed it. Observe the tone of society among us at the present hour. I am not disposed to magnify temporary differences, but for the moment it appears as if in former times, learning and intellectual accomplishments had secured to the possessor a greater rank and authority. In this country, where so much work solicits the hands of men and the avarice of land and wealth increases with the ease of feeding it, the whole emphasis of conversation and of public opinion commends the practical man, and every scholar is sure to hear the solid and practical portion of the community named with the most signiﬁcant respect in every circle. If this were only the reaction from excessive expectations from literature, now disappointed,—it were a just censure. It was superstitious to expect too much from philosophers and the literary class. The sophists, the Alexandrian grammarians, the wits of Queen Anne, the French philosophes, our Lyceums and Diffusion Societies, have not much helped us. Granted, freely granted. Men run out of one superstition into an opposite superstition, and practical people in America give themselves wonderful airs. The cant of the time inquires superciliously after the new ideas; it believes that ideas do not lead to the owning of stocks; they are perplexing and effeminating; but that the ordering a cargo of goods from New-York to Smyrna, or a return cargo; or the running up and down to procure a company of subscribers to set a-going ﬁve or ten thousand spindles; or the negotiation of a caucus, and the practising on the prejudices and facility pg 87of country people to secure their votes in November,—this is practical and commendable.
Young men, I warn you against the clamours of these self-praising, frivolous activities; against these busy-bodies; against irrational labor; against chattering, meddlesome, rich, and ofﬁcial people. If their doing came to any good end!—Action is legitimate and good; forever be it honoured, right, original, private, necessary action, proceeding new from the heart of man, and going forth to beneﬁcent and as yet incalculable ends: Yes; but not a petty ﬁngering and running, a senseless repeating of yesterday's ﬁngering and running; an acceptance of the methods and frauds of other men; an over-doing and busy-ness which pretends to the honors of action but resembles the twitches of Saint Vitus.1 The action of these men, I cannot respect, for they do not respect it themselves. They were better and more respectable abed and asleep. All the best of this class, all who have any insight, or generosity of spirit, are frequently disgusted and fain to put it behind them.
If I were to compare action of a much higher strain than this I speak of, with a life of contemplation, I should not venture to pronounce with much conﬁdence in favor of the former. All mankind have such a deep stake in inward illumination that there is much to be said by the hermit and the monk in defence of his life of thought and prayer. A certain partiality, a certain headiness and loss of balance, is the tax which all action must pay. Act, if you like, but you do it at your peril. Men's actions are too strong for them. Show me a man who has acted and who has not been the victim and slave of his action. What they have done commits and enforces them to do the same again. The ﬁrst act, which was to be only one of an inﬁnite series, becomes a sacrament. The ﬁery reformer embodies his aspiration, and he and his friends hold on to the fact, and lose the aspiration. The Quaker has established Quakerism, the Shaker has established his monastery and his dance, and though he prates of spirit, there is spirit no longer, but repetition, which is antispiritual. But where are his new things of today as bold and surprising? In actions of enthusiasm, in enterprises of great pith and moment, this drawback appears; but in these lower activities, which have, at last, no higher end than to make us more comfortable and more cowardly; in actions of cunning, actions that steal and lie, actions that skulk and ﬂee before the eye of truth; actions that divorce the speculative from the practical faculty, the hands from the head, and put a ban on the reason and the sentiment,—there is nothing else but drawback and negation.
Let us ascend to a juster judgment: The wise Hindoos write in their sacred pg 88books, "Children only and not the learned speak of the speculative and practical doctrines as two: they are but one; for both obtain the self-same end, and the place which is gained by the followers of the one, is gained by the followers of the other. That man seeth, who seeth that the speculative and the practical doctrines are one."2 For great and high action, all which I could extol and be willing to share must draw deeply on the spiritual nature. The measure of action is, the sentiment from which it proceeds,—never the circumstance of numbers or dignity of place. The greatest action may easily be one of the most private circumstance.
Gentlemen, I do not wish to check your impulses to action,—I would not hinder you of one swing of your arm. I do not wish to see you effeminate gownsmen taking hold of the world with the tips of your ﬁngers, or that life should be to you as it is to many, optical, not practical. Far otherwise: I rather wish you to experiment boldly, and give play to your energies, but not, if I could prevail with you,—in conventional ways. I should wish your energy to run in works and emergences growing out of your personal character. Nature will fast enough instruct you in the occasion and the need, and will bring to each of you the crowded hour, the great opportunity. Love, Rectitude, everlasting Fame, will come to each of you in loneliest places with their grand alternatives, and Honor watches to see whether you dare seize the palms.
I have no quarrel with action, only I prefer inaction to misaction. And I reject the abusive application of the term practical to those lower activities. Let us hear no more of the practical men, or I will tell you something of them; this namely; that the practical men, the leaders of their class, the robust gentlemen who stand at the head of their order, share the ideas of the time, and deeply share the ideas which they oppose. They also are sick, if you please to term it so, with this very speculation which so appals you in others. The scholar ﬁnds in them unlooked for acceptance of his most paradoxical experience. There is confession in their eyes, and if they parade before him their business and public importance, it is by way of apology and palliation for not being the students and obeyers of those diviner laws. Talk frankly with them and you learn that you have little to tell them, that the Spirit of the Age has been before you with inﬂuences impossible to parry or resist. The drygoodsmen and the brokers, the lawyers and the manufacturers, are idealists and only differ from the philosopher in the intensity of the charge. We are all contemporaries and bones of one body. For truly, the population of the globe has its origin in the aims which their existence is to serve, and so with every portion of them. The truth takes ﬂesh in forms that can express and execute it. And, thus, in history an idea always overhangs like the moon and rules the tide which rises simultaneously in all the souls of a generation.
pg 89This shallow clamor against theoretic men comes from the weak. Able men may sometimes affect a contempt for thought which no able man ever feels. For what alone in the history of this world interests all men in proportion as they are men? What, but the mystic import of one or two words men use,—Genius,—Muse,—Love,—Right? Every man or woman who can voluntarily or involuntarily give them any insight or suggestion on these secrets, they will hearken after. If there is anything which never fails to interest, it is genius,—the seer, the power of seeing and reporting the truth. To genius, everything is permitted, and not only so, but it enters into all other men's labours;—a tyrannous privilege, to convert every man's wisdom or skill, as it would seem, to its own use, or, to show for the ﬁrst time what all these ﬁne and complex preparations are for. See how many libraries one master absorbs. Who will hereafter go gleaning in those contemporary and anterior books, from each of which he has taken the only grain of truth it had, and has given it tenfold value by placing it? For him, the art of writing, the art of printing, the arts of communicating exist; for him, the railroad was built; for he puts them to their best use. For him, history took all these pains with dates and vouchers. For him, arms, arts, politics, and trade waited like menials,—until the lord of the manor should arrive,—which he quite easily administers. Even the demonstrations of Nature for millenniums seem not to have attained their end, until this interpreter arrives. "I," said the high-spirited Kepler, "may well wait a hundred years for a reader, since God Almighty has waited six thousand years for an observer like myself."3
Genius is a poor man, and has no house, but see this proud landlord who has built the palace, and furnished it so delicately, opens it to him, and beseeches him to make it honorable by entering there, and eating bread. There could always be traced in the most barbarous tribes, and also in the most character-destroying civilization, some vestiges of a faith in genius, as, in the exemption of a priesthood, or bards, or artists, from taxes and tolls levied on other men, or, in civic distinction, or enthusiastic homage, or in hospitalities, as if men would signify their sense, that Genius and Virtue should not pay money for house, and land, and bread, because they have a royal right in these, and in all things,—a ﬁrst mortgage, that takes effect before the right of the present proprietor. For they are the First Good, of which Plato afﬁrms, that "all things are for its sake, and it is the cause of everything beautiful." The heart of mankind would afﬁrm, that he is the rich man only, in whom the people are rich, and he is the poor man, in whom the people are poor.
This reverence is the re-establishment of natural order, for, as the solidest rocks are made up of invisible gases, as the world is made of thickened light, and arrested electricity, so men know that ideas are the parents of men and things; pg 90there was never anything that did not proceed from a thought. The scholar has a deep, ideal interest in the moving show around him. He knew the motley system in its egg.
Philosophy overlooks no appearance as triﬂing. We have,—have we not? a real relation to markets and brokers, to currency and coin. "Gold and silver," says one of the Platonists, "grow in the earth from the celestial gods,—an efﬂuxion from them."4 The unmentionable dollar itself has at last a high origin in moral and metaphysical nature.
Fitchburg stock is not quite private property, but the quality and essence of the universe is in that also. Have we less interest in ships or in shops, in manual work or in household relations, in any object of nature or in any handiwork of man, in any relation of life, or custom of society? The scholar is to show in each identity and connexion; he is to show its origin in the brain of man, and its secret history and issues. He is the attorney of the world, and can never be superﬂuous, where so vast a variety of questions are ever coming up to be solved, and for ages.
I proceed to say that the allusions just now made to the extent of his duties, the manner in which every day's events will ﬁnd him in work, may show that his place is no sinecure.
The scholar, when he comes, will be known by an energy that will animate all who see him. The labour of ambition and avarice will appear lazy beside his. In the right hands, literature is not resorted to as a consolation, and by the broken and decayed, but as a decalogue. In this country we are fond of results and of short ways to them; and most in this department. In our experience, learning is not learned, nor is genius wise. The name of the scholar is taken in vain. We, who should be the channel of that unweariable power which never sleeps, must give our diligence no holidays. Other men are planting and building, baking and tanning, running and sailing, hewing and carrying, each that he may peacefully execute his ﬁne function by which they all are helped. Shall he play, whilst their eyes follow him from far with reverence, attributing to him the delving in great ﬁelds of thought, and conversing with supernatural allies? If he is not kindling his torch, or collecting oil, he will fear to go by a workshop, he will not dare to hear the music of a saw or plane, the steam engine will reprimand, the steam-pipe will hiss at him. He cannot look a blacksmith in the eye; in the ﬁeld he will be shamed by mowers and reapers. The labor in a college should be as strenuous and rugged,—I may say, as audacious, as any labor that is undertaken in agriculture or in war, and the student ought to feel (ought he not?) a poignant shame, if, when he reads the marches of Hannibal or Napoleon across the Alps, or the hardships of Hudson or Parry in Polar voyages, or the patience of Columbus, these eminent pg 91pieces of endurance appear to him to indicate a stouter manhood and resolution, a more incessant industry, or a ruder courage, than that which he exercises in his private library.5
Let him value his talent as a door into nature. Let him see his performances only as limitations. Then, over all, let him value the sensibility that receives, that believes, that loves, that dares, that afﬁrms. Let him ﬁnd his superiority in not wishing superiority; ﬁnd the riches of love which possesses that which it adores; the riches of poverty; the height of lowliness; the immensity of today; and, in the passing hour, the age of ages.
This guidance is for all the parts of life, and the spirit of it is large and liberal as the sky. It is as varied in tone as the works of men, and is not ecclesiastical any more than it is comic.
Thought is valued for Cornelius Agrippa purposes, but the future of the universe is in it.6 I wish you better than to be scholars by ambition, for there is an absolute realism that would else deprive you of your crown. Poet ceases to be poet when he sits crowned.
It is he only who has labor, and the spirit to labor, because courage sees: he is brave, because he sees the omnipotence of that which inspires him. The speculative man, the scholar, is the right hero. Is there only one courage, and one warfare? I cannot manage sword and riﬂe; can I not therefore be brave? I thought there were as many courages as men. Is an armed man the only hero? Is a man only the breech of a gun, or the hasp of a bowie-knife? Men of thought fail in ﬁghting down malignity, because they wear other armour than their own.
Let them decline, henceforward, foreign methods and foreign courages. Let them do that which they can do. Let them ﬁght by their strength, not by their weakness. It seems to me that the thoughtful man needs no armour but this one,—concentration. One thing is for him settled, that he is to come at his ends. He is not there to defend himself, but to deliver his message; if his voice is clear, then clearly; if husky, then huskily; if broken, he can at least scream; gag him, he can still write it; bruise, mutilate him, cut off his hands and his feet, he can still crawl towards his object on his stumps. It is the corruption of our generation that men value a long life, and do not esteem life simply as a means of expressing the sentiment. But beauty belongs to the sentiment, and is always departing from those who depart out of that. The hero rises out of all comparison with contemporaries and with ages of men, because he disesteems old age, and lands, and pg 92money, and power, and will oppose all mankind at the call of that private and perfect Right and Beauty in which he lives.
Man is a torch borne in the wind. The ends I have hinted at made the existence of the scholar or spiritual man an indispensable member of the Republic or Commonwealth of Man. Nature could not leave herself without a seer and expounder. But he could not see or teach without organs. The same necessity, then, that would create him, reappears in his splendid gifts. There is no power in the mind, but in turn becomes an instrument. The descent of genius into talents is part of the natural order and history of the world. The incarnation must be. We cannot eat the granite nor drink hydrogen: they must be decompounded and recompounded into corn and water, before they can enter our ﬂesh. There is a great deal of spiritual energy in the universe, but it is not palpable to us until we can make it up into man. There is plenty of air, but it is worth nothing until we can get it by tools and managing into shape and service, to trundle us, for example, with our baggage on a railroad. Then is it paid for by hundreds and thousands of our money. Plenty of water also, sea-full, sky-full: Who cares for it? But when we can get it where we want it, and in measured portions, on a mill wheel, or boat paddle, we will buy it with millions. There is plenty of wild azote and carbon unappropriated; but it is nought until we have made it up into loaves and soup. So we ﬁnd it in higher relations. There is plenty of wild wrath, but it steads not, until we can get it racked off, shall I say? and bottled into persons;—a little pure, and not too much to every head. How many aspiring poetic geniuses we have seen, and none but ourselves will ever hear of them for want in them of a little talent.
Ah, Gentlemen, I own I love talents and accomplishments, the feet and hands of genius. As Burke said, "it is not only our duty to make the right known, but to make it prevalent." So I delight to see the godhead in distribution; to see men that can come at their ends. These shrewd faculties which belong to man: I love to see them in play, and to see them trained: this memory, carrying in its caves the pictures of all the past, and rendering them in the instant when they can serve the possessor; the craft of mathematical combination, which carries a working-plan of the heavens and of the earth in a formula. I am apt to believe with the Emperor Charles V, that, "as many languages as a man knows, so many times is he a man."7 I like to see a man of that virtue that no obscurity or disguise can conceal, who wins all souls to his way of thinking.
I delight in men adorned and weaponed with man-like arts, who could, alone or with a few like them, reproduce Europe and America—the results of our civilization. I delight in Euclid, who is geometry; in Plato, who is philosophy; in Swedenborg, who is symbolism; in Shakspeare, who is imagination and human pg 93life; in Raphael, master of all the secrets of form; in Chatham, who is so perfect an expression of the English nationality that he carries joy and rage in his hand and lets forth the one spirit or the other at his pleasure; in Demosthenes, every word of whose mouth was a soldier; in Swift, whose pamphlet is war or peace; in Magliabecchi, whose knowledge was so vast that it was said of him that he had forgot more than most other men ever knew; in Mirandola, who never forgot anything; in Adam Smith, with the Wealth of Nations in his understanding; in Napoleon, who carries a campaign of Europe in his head; in Humboldt, who can represent in their order and symmetry the vast and the minute of the system of nature, so that if this world were lost out of space, he could almost report it from his brain.8 It is excellent when the individual is ripened to that degree that he touches both the centre and the circumference, so that he is not only widely intelligent, but carries a counsel in his breast for the emergency of today, and alternates the contemplation of the fact in pure intellect, and the total conversion of the intellect into energy: Jove, and the thunderbolt launched from his hand. We are touched by the picture which the Italian historian gives of Romeo, a poor scholar and minister of Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence. He managed the affairs of his master so well, that he made each one of Raymond's four daughters a queen. Margaret, the eldest, was married to Louis IX of France; Eleanor, to Henry III of England; Sancha, the third, to Richard, Henry's brother, and King of the Romans; and Beatrice, the youngest, to Charles I, King of Naples and Sicily.9 The Provençal Barons, enviers of Romeo, instigated his master to demand of him an account of the revenues he had so carefully husbanded, and the prince as lavishly disbursed. Then Romeo demanded the little mule, the staff, and the scrip, with which he had ﬁrst entered into the count's service, a stranger pilgrim from the Shrine of Saint James in Galicia, and departed as he came, nor was it ever known whence he was, or whither he went.
Perhaps I value the power of achievement a little more, because in America there seems to be a certain indigence of nature in this respect. I think there is no more intellectual people than the people of New England. They are very apprehensive and curious. But there is a sterility of talent. Those iron personalities such as in Greece, and Italy, and once in England were formed to strike fear into kings, and draw the eager service of thousands, rarely appear. We have general pg 94intelligence, but no Cyclop-arms. A very little intellectual force makes a disproportionately great impression, and when one observes how eagerly our people entertain and discuss a new theory, whether home-born or imported from abroad, and, I may say, how little thought operates how great an effect, what deep impression—even of terror—has been made through the most intelligent circles in a wide tract of country when two or three of the most private and retiring men conversed on idealism in their libraries, one would draw a favorable inference as to the intellectual and spiritual tendencies of our people. It seems as if two or three persons coming, who should add to a high spiritual aim, great constructive energy, would carry the country with them.
We want ﬁre, a little less mutton, and a little more genius. In making this claim of costly accomplishments for the scholar, I chieﬂy wish to infer the dignity of his work by the lustre of his appointments. He is not cheaply equipped. The universe was riﬂed to furnish him. He is to forge out of coarsest ores the sharpest weapons. But, if the weapons are valued for themselves, if his talents assume an independence, and come to work for ostentation, they cannot serve him. It was said of an eminent Frenchman, that "he was drowned in his talents."10 The peril of every ﬁne faculty, is, the delight of playing with it for pride. Talent is commonly developed at the expense of character. When a man begins to dedicate himself to a particular function, as, to his logical, or his remembering, or his oratorical, or his arithmetical skill, the advance of his character and genius pauses: he has run to the end of his line; seal the book: the development by that mind is arrested. The scholar is lost in the showman. Society is babyish and is dazzled and deceived by the weapon without inquiry as to the cause for which it is drawn; like boys by the drum and colours of the troops. Talleyrand's question is still the main one to be asked of the scholar: Not, Is he rich? is he committed? is he well-meaning? Has he this or that faculty? Is he of the movement? is he of the establishment?—but, "is he any body?" Does he stand for something?
He must be good of his kind. That is all men ask: all that Talleyrand, all that State-street asks.11 Be real and admirable, not as we know, but as you know. Able men do not care in what kind a man is able, so only that he is able. A master requires a master, and does not stipulate whether it be an artist, a mechanic, or a king. The man of worldly force requires of his priest a talent, a force equal to his own, but wholly applied in a priestly direction. He does not forgive an application in the priest to the merchant's or to the politician's concerns. He wishes him to be such an one as he himself should have been, had he been a churchman. He is sincere and ardent in his vocation—absorbed in it. Let the priest or poet be as valid in theirs. Nobody ever forgives in you any admiration of them, any over-pg 95estimate in you of what they do or have. The objection of men of the world to what they call the morbid intellectual tendency in our young men at present, is not a hostility to their truth, but to this—its shortcoming, that the new views unﬁt their children for business in their sense, and do not qualify them for any complete life of a better kind. They threaten the validity of contracts, but do not prevail so far as to establish the new kingdom which shall supersede contracts, oaths, and property. We have seen to weariness what you cannot do: now show us what you can and will. And with perfect reason: We are not afraid of new truth,—of truth, never, new or old,—no, but of a counterfeit. Everybody hates imbecility and shortcoming, not new methods. The astronomer is not ridiculous inasmuch as he is an astronomer, but inasmuch as he is not an astronomer. Be that you are: be that cheerly and sovereignly. Plotinus makes no apologies: He says roundly, "the knowledge of the senses is truly ludicrous." "Body and its properties belong to the region of nonentity: as if more of body was necessarily produced where a defect of being happens in a greater degree."12
"Matter," says Plutarch, "is privation." Let the man of ideas at this hour be as direct and as fully committed.
Have you a spark of truth? have you a thought in your heart? There was never such need of it as now. As we read the newspapers, as we see the effrontery with which money and power carry their ends, and ride over honesty and good meaning, honesty and religion seem to shriek like ghosts. We will not speak for them, because to speak for them seems so weak and hopeless. We will hold fast our opinion and die in silence. But a true orator will make us feel that the states and kingdoms, that the senators, lawyers, and rich men, are caterpillars' webs and caterpillars, when seen in the light of this despised and imbecile truth. Then we feel what cowards we have been! Truth alone is great. The orator, too, becomes a fool and a shadow before this light which lightens through him. It shines backward and forward, diminishes or annihilates everybody, and the prophet so gladly feels his personality lost in this victorious life. The spiritual nature exhibits itself so in its counteraction to any accumulation of material force. There is no mass that can be a counterweight for it. The exertions of this force are the eminent experiences, out of a long life. All that is worth remembering. These are the moments that balance years. This makes one man good against mankind. This is the secret of eloquence, for it is the end of eloquence in a half-hour's discourse or perhaps by a few sentences to persuade a multitude of persons to renounce their opinions, and change the course of life. They go forth not the men they came in, but shriven, convicted, and converted.
The scholar, then, is unfurnished who has only literary weapons. He ought to have as many talents as he can;—memory, arithmetic, practical power, manners, pg 96temper, lion-heart, are all good things, but these are superﬁcial, and if he has none of them, he can still manage, if he have the main mast, if he is anything. But he must have the resource of resources, and be planted on necessity. For the sure months are bringing him to an examination-day in which nothing is remitted or excused, and for which no tutor, no book, no lectures, and almost no preparation can be of the least avail. He will have to answer certain questions, which, I must plainly tell you, cannot be staved off: for, all men, all women, time, your country, your condition, the invisible world, are the interrogators. Who are you? What do you? Can you obtain what you wish? Is there method in your consciousness? Can you see tendency in your life? Can you help any soul?
Can he answer these questions? Can he dispose of them? Happy if you can answer them mutely in the order and disposition of your life! Happy for more than yourself, a benefactor of men, if you can answer them in works of wisdom, art, or poetry; bestowing on the general mind of men organic creations, to be the guidance and delight of all who know them.
These questions speak to Genius, to that power which is underneath and greater than all talent, and which proceeds out of the constitution of every man:—to Genius, which is an emanation of that it tells of; whose private counsels are not tinged with selﬁshness, but are laws. Men of talent ﬁll the eye with their pretension; they go out into some camp of their own, and noisily persuade society that this thing which they do is the needful cause of all men. They have talents for contention, and they nourish a small difference into a loud quarrel. But the world is wide. Nobody will go there after tomorrow. The gun they have pointed, can defend nothing but itself, nor itself any longer than the man is by. What is the use of artiﬁcial positions? But Genius has no taste for weaving sand or in any triﬂing; but ﬂings itself on real elemental things, which are powers, self-defensive; which ﬁrst subsist and then resist unweariably forevermore all that opposes. Genius loves truth and clings to it, so that what it says and does is not in a by-road visited only by curiosity, but on the great highways of nature which were before the Appian way, and which all souls must travel. Genius delights only in statements which are themselves true, which attack and wound any who opposes them, whether he who brought them here remains here or not; which are live men—the statements,—and do daily declare fresh war against all falsehood and custom, and will not let an offender go; which society cannot dispose of or forget, but which abide there, and will not down at anybody's bidding, but stand frowning and formidable, and will and must be ﬁnally obeyed and done.
The scholar must be ready for bad weather, poverty, insult, weariness, repute of failure, and many vexations. He must have a great patience, and must ride at anchor, and vanquish every enemy whom his small arms cannot reach by the grand resistance of submission, of ceasing to do. He is to know that in the last resort he is not here to work, but to be worked upon. He is to eat insult, drink pg 97insult, be clothed and shod in insult, until he has learned that this bitter bread and shameful dress is also wholesome and warm, is, in short, indifferent; is of the same chemistry as praise and fat living; that they also are disgrace and soreness to him who has them.
I think much may be said to discourage and dissuade the young scholar from his career. Freely be that said. Dissuade all you can from the lists. Sift the wheat, frighten away the lighter souls. Let us keep only the heavy-armed. Let those who come be those who cannot but come, and who see that there is no choice here,—no advantage and no disadvantage compared with other careers. For the great Necessity is our patron, who distributes sun and shade after immutable laws.
Yes, he has his dark days, he has weakness, he has waitings, he has bad company, he is pelted by storms of cares,—untuning cares, untuning company. That is the worst,—they are like some foul beasts of prey who tear and spoil much more than they devour. Well, let him meet them. He has not consented to the frivolity nor to the dispersion. The practical aim is forever higher than the literary aim. He shall not submit to degradation, but shall bear these crosses with what grace he can. He is still to decline how many glittering opportunities and to retreat, and to wait.
It is easy to hide for something, easy to hide now, that we may draw the more admiration anon. 'Tis easy to sit in the shade, if we have a Plato's Republic teeming in the brain, which will presently be born for the joy and illumination of men. Easy to withdraw and break somewhat morosely the gentle conventions of society, to visit not, and to refuse visits, if we can make good to others or only to our own heart, a rare promise. But how, if you have no security of such a result? How, if the fruit of your brain is abortive; if cramp and mildew, if dreams and the sons of dreams, if prose and blotted pages unreadable by other men and odious to your own eyes be the issue? How, if you must sit out the day in thoughtful attitude and experiment, and return to the necessities and conversation of the household without the support of any product, and they must believe and you may doubt that this waste cannot be justiﬁed? I call you to a conﬁdence which surmounts this painful experience. You are to have a self-support which maintains you not only against all others, but against your own moments of skepticism. Pain, indolence, sterility, endless ennui, have also their lesson for the great. The Saharas must be crossed, as well as the Nile. It is easy to live for others: everybody does. I call on you to live for yourself. So shall you ﬁnd in this penury and absence of thought a purer splendor than ever clothed the exhibitions of wit.
I invite you not to cheap joys, to the ﬂutter of gratiﬁed vanity, to a sleek and rosy comfort; no, but to bareness, to power, to enthusiasm, to the mountain of vision, to true and natural supremacy, to the society of the great, and to love.
Give me bareness and poverty, so that I know them as the sure heralds of the muse. Not in plenty, not in a thriving, well-to-do condition she delighteth. pg 98He that would sacriﬁce at her altar, must not leave a few ﬂowers, an apple, or some symbolic gift. No; he must relinquish orchards and gardens, prosperity and convenience; he may live on a heath without trees; sometimes hungry, and sometimes rheumatic with cold. The ﬁre retreats and concentrates within, into a pure ﬂame, pure as the stars to which it mounts. The solitude of the body is the populousness of the soul.
Shall I advance into this realm of the true place and service of the scholar or spiritual man? His faith measures itself by its power to do without. Great believers are always reckoned inﬁdels; impracticable, fantastic, atheistic, and really men of no account. And, truly, the spiritualist ever ﬁnds himself driven to express his faith by a series of skepticisms. Charitable souls come to him with heaps of philanthropic schemes, and ask his cooperation, or at least his assent. How can he hesitate? It is the instinct of man to take on each turn the part of hope; it is the rule of mere comity and courtesy to agree where you can, and to turn your sentence with something auspicious and not sneering and sinister. But he denies them. He is forced to say, "O these things will be as they must be. What can you do? You blow against the wind." Texas and Slavery, Dram-drinking, Pauperism, Association, the marriage question, the Social Reform question, Puseyism, Protestantism, and all the other generosities of the day prove such intractable elements for him to work in—the people's questions are not his, their methods are not his—that, against all the dictates of good nature, he is forced to say, he has no pleasure in them.
Even the doctrines dear to the hope of man, the doctrines of the Divine Providence and of the Immortality of the Soul, his neighbors cannot put the statement so, that he shall afﬁrm it. But he denies out of more faith and not less. He denies out of honesty and sincerity of character. He had rather stand charged in your eyes with the melancholy and weakness of skepticism, than with the meanness of an untruth. He will not lie even for righteousness and love.
Will any say, "this is cold and inﬁdel?"—The wise and magnanimous will not say so. They will exult, rather, in his farsighted good will that his heart sees that it can afford to grant to the skeptic all that ground without disturbing the omnipotence of good. It sees to the end of all transgression. George Fox, the fervid Quaker, describing one of his early visions, says, "he saw that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but withal an inﬁnite ocean of light and love which ﬂowed over that of darkness." The scholar's faith avails to the whole emergency of life and objects. He is content with the just and the unjust; with fools and sots; with the triumph of folly and fraud: He is content even with dis-content: with the yawning gulf between the ambition of man and his power of performance; between the demand and the supply of power which makes the tragedy of all souls. Charles Fourier, the French philosopher, whose social theory has recently pg 99drawn such a crowd of disciples, announced as the basis of his doctrines the cheering sentiment, that "the attractions of man are proportional to his destinies," in other words, that every desire predicts its own satisfaction.13 Yet see everywhere the reverse of this, the incompetency of power to the idea which is the universal grief of young and ardent minds. They accuse the Divine Providence of a certain parsimony in the distribution of power. It has shown the heaven and earth to every child, and ﬁlled him with a desire for the whole,—a desire raging, inﬁnite,—a hunger as of space to be ﬁlled with planets,—a cry of famine as of devils for souls. Then, for the satisfaction,—to each man is administered a drop, a single drop,—a bead of dew, of vital power per day: a cup as large as space,—and one drop of the water of life in it. Each man woke in the morning with an appetite that could eat the solar system like a cake; a spirit for action and passion without bounds: he could lay his hand on the morning star: he could wrestle with Orion; or try conclusions with gravitation or chemistry; but on the ﬁrst motion to try his strength, hands, feet, and senses would not serve him. He was an Emperor deserted by his states, and left to whistle by himself;—thrust rather into a mob of Emperors, all whistling, and still the sirens sung, "the attractions are proportional to the destinies." In every house, in the heart of every maiden and of every boy, in the soul of the soaring saint, this chasm is found—this chasm between a monstrous promise of ideal power, and this shabby experience.
The expansive nature of truth comes to his succour: elastic, invincible, not to be surrounded. He helps himself by vaster generalizations and exults in the new immensities of his horizon. The lesson of life is practically to generalize, to believe what the years and the centuries say against the hours, to resist the usurpation of particulars, and to penetrate to the catholic sense which is really expressed, though occultly, by every particular. Things seem to say one thing, and do say the reverse. The appearance is immoral, the result is moral and immutable. All things seem to tend downward, to justify despondency, to promote rogues, to defeat the just,—and by knaves, as by martyrs, the just cause is carried forward. Although history teaches that knaves win in every political struggle, although society seems to be delivered over from the hands of one set of criminals into the hands of another set of criminals, as fast as the government is changed,—and the march of civilization is an endless train of felonies,—yet general ends are somehow answered;—no thanks to the felon's. We see now as heretofore events forced on, which seem to retard or retrograde the civilization of ages. But the world-spirit pg 100is a good swimmer, and storms and waves cannot drown him. He snaps his ﬁnger at laws. And so, throughout history, Heaven seems to affect low and poor means: "Most poor matters point to rich ends."14 The needles are nothing, the magnetism is all. Through the years, through the centuries, through evil agents, through toys and atoms, a great and beneﬁcent tendency irresistibly streams. And he who believes the tendency is always right, and will be borne out in his testimony: the Scholar is he.
But, Gentlemen, I see plainly there is no end to these expansions. I have exhausted your patience, and I have only begun. It is time to close. I had perhaps wiselier adhered to my ﬁrst purpose of conﬁning my illustration to a single topic,—but it is so much easier to say many things than to explain one.
Well, you will see the drift of all my thoughts, this namely, that the scholar must be much more than a scholar: that his ends give value to every means, but he is to subdue and keep down his methods; that his use of books is occasional, and inﬁnitely subordinate; that he should read a little proudly, as one who knows the original, and cannot, therefore, very highly value the copy. In like manner, he is to hold lightly every tradition, every opinion, every person, out of his piety to that Eternal Spirit which dwells unexpressed with him. He shall think very highly of his destiny. He is here to know the secret of Genius, here to become not a reader of poetry, but Homer, Dante, Milton, Shakspeare, Swedenborg, in the fountain, through that. If one man could impart his faith to another, if I could prevail to communicate the incommunicable mysteries, you should see the breadth of your realm; that ever as you ascend in your proper and native path, you receive the keys of nature and of history and rise on the same stairs to science and to piety.
And this, Gentlemen, is that which I came hither to say to those few,—if they be few,—to that one among you,—if there be but one who dares believe it,—namely, that every high thing which you have heard or dreamed of the right and power of the scholar,—however contradicted by the voice of your country or of your own seeming observation and experience,—is verily true. The best, the best is always true. Who is he in all this company of brave young men who dare take home to himself this, that he need not seek anything; that power, and love, and friendship shall come to the great? God saith forever within the heart—Do not believe your eyes; believe your sentiment! and the slow Destinies make good the word.