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pg 152Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century, Lecture II:"The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science"8 June 1848(1848–1850)——————————————————————————————

Emerson delivered "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" on 8 June 1848 as the second in a series of six lectures on the Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century before members of the Literary and Scientific Institution in Portman Square in London; he netted £80 from the series instead of the £200 he had expected (for lecture receipts, see Letters, 4:80n, 102–3). In America he repeated "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" on 22 January 1849 as the second in a series of five lectures on the Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century at the Freeman Place Chapel in Boston, netting $87 from the series, and again on 21 February 1849 as the second in a series of six lectures on the Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century in Worcester, Massachusetts, for which he received $138 for the series (except as noted, lecture fees are from the "Account Books").

As he explained to Edward Everett Hale while negotiating for his delivery of the Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century series in Worcester, Emerson considered the first three lectures of the series—"The Powers and Laws of Thought," "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science," and "The Tendencies and Duties of Men of Thought"—to constitute a course on the "'Natural History of the Intellect,'" and they required, he said, a class with a taste for philosophy and a "thoughtful ear" (28 December 1848, Letters, 8:197). Within a week of completing the series in Worcester on 6 April 1849, Emerson began a series of three lectures before the Concord Lyceum in Concord, Massachusetts, consisting of the three "Natural History of the Intellect" lectures. The records of the Concord Lyceum indicate that he spoke on "Laws of the Intellect" on 11, 18, and 25 April 1849 (see Emerson and Thoreau Speak, 163); undoubtedly, he delivered "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" on 18 April 1849 as the second in his series of three lectures on "Laws of the Intellect." Finally, Emerson delivered "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" under the title "Identity of Thought and Nature" on 31 May 1850 as the seventh in a series of eight lectures at the Universalist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio; he received $471.71 for the series ("Account Books"). This lecture has never been published. The present state of "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" manuscripts complicates the reporting of their history. The manuscript cataloged as bMS Am 1280.200 (6) in the Houghton Library of Harvard University is the earliest version of the lecture, composed either in 1847 prior to Emerson's trip to England or in the spring of 1848 while he was in London and Paris preparing lectures for the series at Portman Square. In a de-pg 153parture from Emerson's usual practice with his lecture manuscripts, pages of this manuscript are sewn together with white thread along the left margin; however, the intrusion of multiple hands in the manuscript makes it difficult to determine whether the manuscript was sewn together by Emerson or even under his direct supervision. No dates occur in Emerson's hand in the sewn-together portion of the manuscript; however, on the first page of the first of two loose folios used as wrappers for the manuscript, the following occurs centered on the top of the page in Emerson's hand: "Natural History / of / Intellect. / Lecture II. / 1842–3."

In contrast, the manuscript cataloged as bMS Am 1280.200 (7) in the Houghton Library is an extensive revision of, roughly, the first three fourths of the earliest version of the lecture. Once sewn together (a line of stab holes is evident along the length of the left margin), the manuscript bears no dates in Emerson's hand except for "1843," which occurs as an insertion following this title on the first page of the text: "Natural History of Intellect. / Lecture II." Immediately following the title page, a stray folio occurs, one page of which contains notes in Emerson's hand unrelated to the lecture.

Because there is no correspondence in the spacing of stab holes between this and the earlier manuscript, the manuscripts were certainly never sewn together as one unit, and as is true for the now sewn together text, it is impossible to determine whether the revised manuscript was sewn by Emerson or even under his direct supervision. The condition of the pages in both manuscripts provides ample evidence that Emerson read from both at one time or another.

Taken together, evidence of the present state and condition of the manuscripts suggests the following: first, because Emerson evidently read from both manuscripts in their unsewn state, the last pages of the earliest version, along with two pages prior to the point where the revised version of the lecture breaks off, supplied an internal transition for the revised version of the lecture and the conclusion for both versions of the lecture; second, while it is possible that the respective pages of the separate manuscripts were initially sewn together by Emerson or under his supervision, it is a virtual certainty that the final arrangement of the manuscripts as found in the Houghton Library today comes not from Emerson's hand but from James Elliot Cabot's. Whatever his reasons, which may have been driven by aesthetic concerns as much as by anything else, it was Cabot's decision to preserve the concluding pages of the lecture sewn (or, just as likely, resewn) together with the pages of the earliest version of the lecture. While dates in Emerson's hand in both manuscripts indicate the early 1840s as the time of composition, there is no evidence that Emerson was at work on either version of this lecture before the summer and winter of 1847–48. Emerson's misdating most likely occurred in the 1870s: in 1870 or 1871, when he was drawing on the early "Natural History of the Intellect" lectures for his Natural History of the Intellect series at Harvard, or later in the decade, when he was organizing his papers for Cabot's review and possible use in publication. On the dating, Cabot himself noted on the earliest version, "The dates . . . seem to have been put on later, & wrongly."

As with "The Powers and Laws of Thought," the first lecture in his Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century series, Emerson probably completed the earliest draft of "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" just prior to delivering it in England and pg 154undertook his revisions as early as 1849, but no later than 1850, for those occasions on which he would reprise the three lectures that initially made up his lectures on "Natural History of the Intellect." Consistent with editorial practice throughout this edition, "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" as printed represents Emerson's latest version of the lecture. Of necessity, then, copy-text for the lecture has been drawn from both manuscript sources: bMS Am 1280.200 (7) supplies the introduction and body of the lecture as Emerson last read it, and, as reported in the electronic textual notes, bMS Am 1280.200(6) supplies the final quarter or conclusion of the lecture from pages that served as the conclusion in Emerson's earliest and revised versions of the lecture, as well as two pages—{26r} and part of {26v}—to complete a transition lacking between pages {33v} and {34r} of the revised text.

The London Inquirer published detailed reports of "The Powers and Laws of Thought" and "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" as Emerson delivered them before the Literary and Scientific Institution and praised Emerson's "advantages" as a lecturer ("Mr. Emerson's Lectures," 10 June 1848, 379); a highly favorable, near-verbatim report of this delivery of "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" also appeared in Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper ("Mr. Emerson's Lectures," 10 June 1848, 750).

In America, however, audiences were not as kindly disposed to "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science," perhaps because, as the condition of its manuscripts suggests, Emerson had not yet achieved complete mastery of his subject. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was disappointed by the lecture when he heard it on 22 January 1849 at the Freeman Place Chapel. Characterizing it as "Analogies between Mind and Matter," he even criticized Emerson's delivery as having lost some of its individualism since his return from England (see Letters, 4:130n). The Boston Post was at a complete loss to report on the substance of this lecture when Emerson delivered it on 22 January 1849, but unlike Longfellow, the Post seemed absolutely taken with Emerson's performance:

We listened to Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson's second lecture . . . as we always listen to him, with admiration and delight. Yet it is quite out of character to say Mr. Emerson lectures—he does no such thing. He drops nectar—he chips out sparks—he exhales odors—he lets off mental skyrockets and fireworks—he spouts fire, and, conjurer like, draws ribbons out of his mouth. He smokes, he sparkles, he improvises, he shouts, he sings, he explodes like a bundle of crackers, he goes off in fiery eruptions like a volcano, but he does not lecture.

. . . He is a vitalized speculation—a talking essence—a sort of celestial emanation—a bit of transparency broken from the spheres—a spiritual prison through which we see all beautiful rays of immaterial existences. His leaping fancy mounts upward like an India rubber ball, and drifts and falls like a snow-flake or a feather. He moves in the regions of similitudes. He comes through the air like a cherubim with a golden trumpet in his mouth, out of which he blows tropes and figures and gossamer transparencies of suggestive fancies. He takes high flights, and sustains himself without ruffling a feather. He inverts the rainbow and uses it for a swing—now sweeping the earth, and now clapping his hands among the stars. (25 January pg 1551849, 2; see also "Mr. Emerson's Lectures, Again," Boston Post, 26 January 1849, 2, for a serious discussion of Emerson's efforts in both "The Powers and Laws of Thought" and "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science")

What the Boston Post found to compliment in Emerson's performance at the Freeman Place Chapel, the Boston Daily Evening Transcript took as an invitation to parody. In a brief piece printed on the front page of its 30 January 1849 issue, the Transcript reported, "The Boston Post . . . speaks of one of Mr. Emerson's 'lectures;' the brilliant description is itself an exemplification of the thing described" and then, following this introduction, printed a text nearly identical to that quoted above from the Post ("Ralph Waldo Emerson," 1). Nor did the mischief end there. On 6 February the New-York Tribune published a satirical cartoon of Emerson that depicted him swinging in an inverted rainbow (see Merton M. Sealts Jr., Pursuing Melville, 19401980 [Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982], 252, for additional discussion).

Finally, when Emerson delivered "The Relation of Intellect to Natural Science" as "Identity of Thought with Nature" in 1850, a reporter for the Daily Cincinnati Gazette used the occasion of announcing "Inspiration and Instinct" to explain the paper's failure to report on the first two philosophy lectures and to justify the paper's failure to report on the third, stating, "they are of too abstruse a nature . . . to be characterised in a newspaper paragraph or two" ("Mr. Emerson's Lectures," 3 June 1850, 2).

In the last lecture, I proposed to attempt a simple enumeration of some of the mental laws; I spoke of their commanding interest for all men, notwithstanding the frequent ruin of the inquirers, through one of the vices insidiously born with him like the weevil in the wheat.1 I spoke of the Excellency of Knowledge and Thought; of the Intellect pure, whose sign was declared to be Beauty and Cheerfulness. I proceed now with that description and have to consider, first, the Identity of the Intellect with Nature and, second, some of the Statutes or Byelaws of the Mind.

The first fact in the Natural History of the Intellect, is its similarity, in so many remarkable points, to the history of material atoms; indicating a profound identity with all the parts of Nature. All seem to come of one stock. What is the interest of tropes and symbols to men? I think it is that; unexpected relationship. Each remote part corresponds to each other, can represent the other; because all spring from one root. Nature is a chamber lined with mirrors, and look where we will in botany, mechanics, chemistry, numbers, the image of man comes throbbing back to us. From whatever side we look at nature, we seem to be exploring pg 156the figure of a disguised man. We still see the old law gleaming through as the sense of a poem in a language imperfectly understood. Shall I say that the world may be reeled off from any one of its laws like a ball of yarn; that a chemist can explain by his analogies the processes of the Intellect; the physician from his; the geometer, and the mechanician, respectively from theirs?

Thus the idea of Vegetation is irresistible in considering mental activity. Man seems a higher plant. What happens here in mankind, is matched by what happens out there in the history of grass and wheat: an identity long ago observed or, I may say, never not observed, suggesting that the planter among his vines is in the presence of his ancestors; or, shall I say, that the orchardist is a pear raised to the highest power? In this mind, the Persian poet wrote,

  • "The gardener's beauty is not of himself,
  • His hue the rose's, and his form the palm's."2

This curious resemblance to the vegetable pervades human nature, and repeats, in the mental function, the germination, growth, state of melioration, crossings, blights, parasites, and, in short, all the accidents of the plant. The analogy is so thorough, that I shall detain you a few minutes on some of the points.

It appears as if a good work did itself; as if whatever is good, in proportion as it is good, had a certain self-existence or self-organizing power. The new study, the good book, advances, whether the writer is awake or asleep; its subject and order are not chosen, but pre-appointed. It is observed, that our mental processes go forward, even when they seem suspended. Scholars say, that, if they return to the study of a new language after some intermission, the intelligence of it is more and not less. A subject of thought to which we return from month to month, from year to year, has always some ripeness, of which we can give no account. Hence we say, the book grew in the author's mind.

Under every leaf, is the bud of a new leaf; and, not less, under every thought, is a newer thought. Every reform is only a mask, under cover of which a more terrible reform, which dares not yet name itself, advances.

The plant absorbs much nourishment from the ground, in order to repair its own waste by exhalation, and keep itself good. Increase its food, and it becomes fertile. The mind is first only receptive. Surcharge it with thoughts, in which it delights, and it becomes active. The moment a man begins not to be convinced, that moment he begins to convince.

In the orchard, many trees send out a moderate shoot in the first summer heat, and stop. They look, all summer, as if they would presently burst the bud again, pg 157and grow; but they do not. The fine tree continues to grow. The same thing happens in the man. The commonest remark, if the man could only extend it a little, would make him a genius; but the thought is prematurely checked and grows no more.

All great masters are chiefly distinguished by the power of adding a second, a third, and perhaps a fourth step, in a continuous line. Many a man had taken their first step. With every additional step, you enhance immensely the value of your first. It is like the rising premium which is sometimes set on a horse by farmers. A price is agreed on in the stable; then he is turned into a pasture, and allowed to roll; and every time he shall roll himself quite over, adds ten dollars to the value.

Van Mons, the inventor of pears, discovered that under favorable circumstances, and at a certain age, the tree was in a state of variation, or state of melioration; as Newton had already observed the fits of easy transmission and easy refraction in light.3 And there is not less in the human mind, in certain favorable times and relations, a creative saliency, a habit of saliency, which is a sort of importation and domestication of the Divine Effort in a man; a habit of originating, a habit of initiating action, instead of following custom.

See how many men are near a capital discovery; or how near all men are, for years, for ages,—and only one man leaps the invisible fence, and arrives at it. Bichat remarks, "Nothing is more simple than the fact discovered yesterday: Nothing more difficult, than that which will be discovered tomorrow."4

The botanist discovered long ago, that nature loves mixtures, and nothing grows well on the Crab Stock; but the bloods of two trees being mixed, a new and excellent fruit is produced. Our flower and fruit gardens are the result of that experiment.

And not less in human history, aboriginal races are incapable of improvement; the dull, melancholy Pelasgi arrive at no civility until the Phoenicians and Ionians come in. The Briton, the Pict, is nothing, until the Roman, the Saxon, the Norman arrives. The Indian of North America is barbarous. And, in the conduct of the mind, the blending of two tendencies or streams of thought, the union of two brains, is a happy result. And usually every mind of a remarkable efficiency owes it to some new combination of traits not observed to have met before.

All that delight which the eye owes to complemental colours, for example, those two harmonies of colour which our winter scenery so frequently offers, in the contrast of snow lying under green pine-trees; and of snow lying under the dead oak-leaves; each of which contrasts gives the eye a lively pleasure; and also that delight which the ear owes to the complemental sounds,—the beautiful sur-pg 158prises of music,—delights us still more in the combinations of human life, and gives rise to love and joy.

It is quite easy to indicate these analogies to any extent, as, for instance, in the special cultivation. The education of the garden is like the education of the college, or the bound apprentice; its aim is to produce, not sap, but plums or quinces; not the health of the tree, but an overgrown pericarp; and it is too apparent in much old history of Universities, not less, which will train a grammarian, though it dry up the man. We will hope that the mended humanity of Republics will save us from this peril.

As thus, it is easy to take vegetation as the type of power; to represent the world as a plant, and the particles plants,—and the vegetable function may be easily traced through all parts of nature, and even in the functions of mind, where Freedom seems to suspend the brute organic action, so it would be easy, with the ancient mythologists, and early theorists, to find the world an animal, which repeats in colossal the economy of animation, which has locomotion, perspiration, inspiring and expiring of air and water, assimilates food, and draws to it with intelligence all that suits its constitution. Its particles were animals, and endowed with appetences, and the whole order of things exhibits the analogy of sex. Kepler looked at the world as a single animal which roared in caverns, and breathed in sea tides; and Goethe represents it as sucking in and ejecting water to make the alternations of weather as well as of tides. It was then, of course, easy to represent all the metaphysical facts by animal analogies; and, indeed, so many of our mental words are derived from the animal body; as, grasp, carry, leap, digest, swallow, run, sleep, wake, hear. It admits too the most exact analogy. Saint Augustine says, "The memory is, as it were, the belly of the mind, and joy and sadness like sweet and bitter food, which, when committed to the memory, are, as it were, passed into the belly, where they may be stowed, but cannot taste. Ridiculous is it to imagine these to be alike, and yet they are not utterly unlike."

It would be as easy to draw our terms of describing mental science from the secret activity of crystallization and its self-determined affinity and form; or, from electricity, which lies already in so many minds as the sufficient theory for explaining creation.

And, in general, all the secrets of natural laws are repeated in mental experience. Or, the like analogies might be shown between the chemical action of bodies and the intellectual chemistry. The affinity of particles accurately translates the affinity of thoughts; and, what a modern experimenter calls "the contagious influence of chemical action," is so true of minds, that I have only to read the law, that its application may be evident. It is thus. "A body in the act of combination or decomposition, enables another body with which it may be in contact, to enter pg 159into the same state."5 "A substance which would not of itself yield to a particular chemical attraction, will nevertheless do so, if placed in contact with some other body, which is in the act of yielding to the same force."

And if one remembers how contagious are the moral states of men, if one remembers how much we are braced by the presence and actions of any Spartan soul;—it does not need vigour of our own kind; but the spectacle of vigour of any kind, of any prodigious power of performance, wonderfully arms and recruits us. On the other hand, how many men are degraded only by their sympathies. Their native aims and genius are high enough, but their relation all too tender to the gross people about them.

In unfit company, the finest powers are paralysed. No ambition, no opposition, no friendly attention and fostering kindness, no wine, music, or exhilarating aids, neither warm fireside, nor fresh air, walking, or riding, avail at all to resist the palsy of misassociation. Genius is mute, is dull; there is no Genius. We have tried every variety of appliance, and failed with all, to elicit a spark. Misalliance. Ask your flowers to open, when you have let in on them a freezing wind.

This singular exactness of analogy between all the parts of nature,—this copula or tie between all the sciences,—has been and remains the highest problem which men have to solve. You all know the Platonic solution of the Reminiscence. Show us what facts you will, and we are agitated with dim sentiments that we already know somewhat of this.

The mechanical laws might as easily be shown pervading the kingdom of mind, as the vegetative. A man has been in Spain. The facts and thoughts which the traveller has found in that country gradually settle themselves into a determinate heap of one size and form, and not another. That is what he knows and has to say of Spain. He cannot say it truly, until a sufficient time for the settling and fermenting has passed, and for the disappearing of whatever is accidental and not essential. Then how obvious is the momentum in our mental history! The momentum which increases by exact law in falling bodies, increases by the same rate in the intellectual action. Every scholar knows that he applies himself coldly and slowly at first to his task, but, with the progress of the work, the mind itself becomes heated, and sees far and wide, as it approaches the end of its task: so that it is the common remark of the student, 'Could I only have begun with the same fire which I had on the last day, I should have done something.'

It is true, there is a striking, and, if you will, a certain ridiculous resemblance between a man and a woodchuck; between a man and a pineapple; between a man pg 160and a sponge; or whatever natural creature. The gentleman stands in his garden by his vines; gentleman and vine: the one can make a railroad, or a Canton voyage, or an oration; the other can make a watermelon. Each is a caricature of the other, the man of the vine, the vine of the man. A sort of Hudibrastic rhyme.6 Well, the man discovers that resemblance in all things he looks at,—the sun, the moon, or the salt, or metal, in his crucible. They all mock him, mimic him;—there is the oddest parody always going forward. What can it mean? Every thing he looks at, seems to be humming,

  • "For auld lang syne, my dear,
  • For auld lang syne!"

Well, here are two explanations.

Plato explains the intuitive knowledge which all souls have of the truths of geometry, by reminiscence. They have all been through the mill before: they are horribly old: and, on first meeting with a new truth, the soul shakes its head with a knowing look, "Old fellow, I knew your grandfather." And certainly, it were very desirable, as we have histories entitled "Adventures of a cent," "History of a velvet cushion," "Adventures of an old soldier," and the like; that we should have the veracious "Adventures of an old Soul." The history of one of these eternal Jews on the high road of eternity must supersede Malebranche, Locke, Stewart, and Hegel.7

That is Plato's doctrine, that, the souls learned it all long ago by experience; have been everywhere; and are soaked and saturated with nature, and, in short, have quite sucked the apple of Eden.

The other theory of this relation is the Omoiomeria (or like atoms) of Leucippus and Lucretius; the "leasts" of Malpighi and Swedenborg; that, fire is made of little fires; and water, of little waters; and man, of manikins; drops make the ocean, sands compose its shores.8 A drop of water and a grain of sand give you the whole economy. A man is a developed animalcule; animalcule is an arrested Man, but animalcule, again, is made up of atoms, the same atoms of which water, fire, or sand are composed, and, on each atom, the whole atomic power is impressed. A violence of direction is given to it, a genius belongs to it, pg 161which, in all its career of combination, it never loses, but still manages to express in a man, in an orange, in a ruby, in a peacock, in a moss: it is still atom, and holds hard by the honest manners and aims of atom.

It is certain that however we may conceive of the wonderful little bricks of which the world is builded, we must suppose a similarity, and fitting, and identity in their frame. It is necessary to suppose that every hose in nature fits every hydrant; that every atom screws to every atom. So only is combination, chemistry, vegetation, animation, intellection, possible. Without identity at base, chaos must be forever.

Identity at the base. It need not be atoms: Modern theory sets aside atoms as unphilosophical, and the first of English physical philosophers, Faraday, propounds that we do not arrive at last at atoms, but at spherules of force. But, in the initial forms or creations, be they what they may, we must find monads that have already all the properties which in any combination they afterwards exhibit. (And this is the fruitful fact whence the sense of relation and the intellectual facts also must be explained.)

It is very easy to push the doctrine into vagaries and into burlesque. Pythagoras and Plato taught it in grave earnest: The comic Poets and the Hindoo priests exaggerated it into the transmigration of Souls who remembered in one state what befel them in another. But the necessities of the human mind, of logic, and of nature, require the admission of a profound identity at the base of things to account for our skill, and even for our desire of knowledge.

Somewhere, sometime, some eternity, we have played this game before, and have retained some vague memory of the thing, which, though not sufficient to furnish an account of it, yet enables us to understand it better, now that we are here.

If we go through the British Museum, or the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, or any cabinet where is some representation of all the kingdoms of nature, we are surprised with occult sympathies, and feel as if looking at our own bone and flesh through colouring and distorting glasses. Is it not a little startling to see with what genius some people take to hunting; with what genius some men fish; what knowledge they still have of the creature they hunt, (the robber, as the police reports say, must have been intimately acquainted with the premises,) how lately the hunter was the poor creature's organic enemy: a presumption inflamed, (as lawyers say,)—by observing how many faces in the street still remind us of visages in the forest;—the escape from the quadruped type is not yet perfectly accomplished.

I see the same fact everywhere. The chemist has a frightful intimacy with the secret architecture of bodies; as the fisherman follows the fish, because he was fish; so the chemist divines the way of alkali, because he was alkali.

pg 162As we cannot go into the Zoological Museum without feeling our family ties, and every rhomb, and vesicle, and spicule claiming old acquaintance, so neither can a tender Soul stand under the starry heaven, and explore the solar and stellar arrangements, without the wish to mix with them by knowledge. If men are analogons of acids and salts, and of beast and bird, so are they of geometric laws, and of astronomic galaxies. I have read that "The first of mortals was formed according to all the art, image, and connexion of the world.——"9

This knowledge and sympathy only needs augmentation, and it becomes active or creative. The love of the stars becomes inventive and constructive. Descartes, Kepler, Newton, Swedenborg, Laplace, Schelling, wrestle with the problem of genesis, and occupy themselves with constructing cosmogonies.10

Nature is saturated with Deity; the particle is saturated with the elixir of the Universe. Little men just born Copernicise.11 They cannot radiate as suns, or revolve as planets, and so they do it in effigy, by building the orrery in their brain. Who can see the profuse wealth of Raphaelle's or Angelo's designs, without feeling how near these were to the secret of structure, how little added power it needs to convert this rush of thoughts and forms into bodies? Nay, who can recall the manifold creations of his own fancy in his dreams, without feeling his own readiness to be an artist and creator? And we are very conscious that this identity reaches farther than we know,—has no limits; or none that we can ascertain; as appears in the language men use in regard to men of extraordinary genius. For, the signal performances of great men seem only an extension of the same art that built animal bodies, applied to toys or miniatures. Thus in Laplace and Napoleon, is the old planetary arithmetic now walking in a man: in the builder of Egyptian, or in the designer of Gothic piles, is a reduction of nature's great aspects in caverns and forests, to a scale of human convenience. And there is a conviction in the mind, that some such impulse is constant; that, if the solar system is good art and architecture, the same achievement is in our brain also, if only we can be kept in height of health, and hindered from any interference with our great instincts.

This theory is the root of all the great arts of picture, music, sculpture, architecture, poetry. And the history of the highest genius will warrant the conclusion, that, in proportion as a man's life comes into union with nature, his thoughts run parallel with the creative law.

The act of Imagination is the sharing of the ethereal currents. The poet be-pg 163holds the central identity, and sees an ocean of power roll and stream this way and that, through million channels, and, following it, can detect essential resemblances in things never before named together. The poet can distribute things after true classes. His own body also is a fleeing apparition, his personality as fugitive as any type, as fugitive as the trope he employs. In certain hours, we can almost pass our hand through our own bodies. I think the last use or value of poetry to be, the suggestion it affords of the flux or fugaciousness of the poet.

The act of Imagination is, the sharing of the real circulations of the Universe; and the value of a symbol or trope, on which, as we know, religions and philosophies are built, is, the evidence it affords that the thought was just.

I had rather have a good symbol of my thought, or a good analogy, than the suffrage of Kant and Plato. If you agree with me, or if Locke, or Montesquieu, or Spinoza agree, I may yet be wrong.12 But if the elm tree thinks the same thing, if running water, if burning coal; if crystals and alkalies, in their several fashions, say what I say, it must be true.

A good symbol or image therefore is worth more than any argument. A good symbol is a missionary to persuade thousands and millions. The Vedas, the Edda, the Koran, and each new religion and philosophy, what else have they been than the expansion of some happy figure?

Thus, "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."13 Intellect agrees with nature. Thought is a finer chemistry, a finer vegetation, a finer animal action. The act of imagination is an obedience of the private spirit to the currents of the world. The act of memory is only the right polarity of the individual or the private mind adjusted to the poles of the world; then it easily commands, as at the centre, the past and the present.

It is not strange that the workman should appear in the work. The world exists for the thought. It is to make appear things which hide. Plants, crystals, animals, are seen; that which makes them such, is not seen. These, then, are "apparent copies of unapparent natures."14

Thought agrees also with the moral code of the universe. There is nothing anomalous or antinomian in its higher properties, but as complete a normality or allegiance to general laws, as is shown by the moss or the egg.

The same laws which are kept in the lower parts, in the mines and workshops of nature, are kept in these palaces and council chambers. One police is good for snails and for seraphim. Nature is a shop of one price,—prix fixé. Great advan-pg 164tages are bought at great cost. It is good to see the stern terms on which all these high prizes of fortune are obtained, and which parallel in their exactness the rigour of material laws.

If you will suffer me to express somewhat mathematically,—that is, somewhat materially,—the relation of Knowledge, Wisdom, and Virtue, I should say, Knowledge is the straight line, Wisdom is the power of the straight line, that is, the Square. Virtue is the power of the Square, that is, the Solid. A man reads in the "Cultivator," the method of planting and hoeing potatoes, or follows a farmer hoeing along the row of potato hills. That is knowledge. At last, he seizes the hoe, and, at first, with care and heed, pulls up every root of sorrel and witch grass. The day grows hot, the row is long; he says to himself, "This is wisdom,—but one hill is like another,—I have mastered the art: It is trifling to do many times the same thing;" and he desists. But the last lesson was still unlearned. The moral power lay in the continuance, in fortitude, in working against pleasure, to the excellent end, and conquering all opposition. He has knowledge; he has wisdom; but he has missed Virtue, which he only acquires who endures routine, and sweat, and postponement of ease, to the achievement of a worthy end.

The whole history of man is a series of conspiracies to win from nature some advantage without paying for it. Especially, the history of Arts, and of Education. We need not go back to old Sophists.15 We have had some signal instances in our own times.

It is very curious to see what grand powers we have a hint of, and are mad to grasp, yet how slow Heaven is to trust us with edge-tools.

We found insuperable difficulty in the old way to obtain the knowledge which others all around us possessed, and were willing enough to impart, and which we wanted. Barriers of society,—barriers of language,—inadequacy of the channels of communication, all choked up and disused. Lawyers say, Speech is to conceal. Each man has facts I am looking for, and, though I talk with him, I cannot get at them, for want of the clew. I do not know enough to ask the right question. He does not know what to do with his facts. I know, if I could only get them. But I cannot get society on my own terms. If I want his facts, I must use his keys,—his keys,—that is his arrangements and reserves.

Here is all Boston, all railroads, all manufactures and trade, in the head of this merchant at my side. What would I not give for a peep at his rows, and files, and systems of facts?—Cuvier is gone, and Humboldt is gone, but here is another man who is the heir of all their faculty, with the whole theory of anatomy and Nature: I am in his chamber, and I do not know what question to put.—Here pg 165is the king of chemists, whom I have known so long, who knows so much; and I through my ignorance of the vocabulary have never been able to get anything truly valuable from him.—

Here is all Fourier, with his brilliant social schemes, in the head of his disciple.—Here is a philologist, who knows all languages.—Here is all anatomy in the mind of Richard Owen, all electromagnetism in Faraday's, all geology in Lyell's, all mechanism in Stephenson's, all Swedenborg in yonder mystic, all American History in Bancroft's or Sumner's head; and I cannot, with all my avarice of these facts, appropriate any fragment of all their experience.16 I would fain see their picture-books as they see them. Now, said the adept, if I could cast a spell on this man, and see his pictures by myself, without his intervention,—I see them, and not he report them,—that were science and power. And, having learned that lesson, then turn the spell on another, lift up the cover of another hive, and see the cells and suck the honey; and then another; and so without limit, they were not the poorer, and I were rich indeed. This was the expedient of mesmerism,—by way of suction-pump to draw the most unwilling and valuable mass of experience from every extraordinary individual at pleasure. It is not to be told with what joy we began to put this experiment in practice. The eyes of Lynceus who saw through the earth the ingots of gold that were lying a rod or two under the surface; or of the diver who comes suddenly down on a bed of pearl-oysters, that were all pearl;—were not to be compared to his, which put him in possession of men. He was the man-diver. He was the thought-vampyre. He became at once ten, twenty, a thousand men, as he stood gorged with knowledges and turning his fierce eyes on the multitude of masters in all departments of human skill, and hesitating on which mass of action and adventure to turn his all-commanding introspection.

Unhappily, on trial, this bubble broke. Nature was too quick for us. It was found, that the old conditions were invariably enforced; that, if he would arrive at their pictures by the short cut proposed, he must still be imprisoned in their minds by dedication to their experience, and lose so much career of his own, or so much sympathy with still higher souls than theirs: that the condition of par-pg 166ticipation in any man's thought, is, entering the gate of that life. No man can be intellectually apprehended;—as long as you see only with your eyes, you do not see him. You must be committed, before you shall be intrusted with the secrets of any party.

Besides, he found that really and truly there were no short cuts, that every perception costs houses and lands. Every word of the man of Genius, apprises me how much he has turned his back upon. Every image, every truth, cost him a great neglect; the loss of an estate; the loss of brilliant career opened to him; the loss of friend; wife; child; the flat negation of a duty. Alas! The whole must come by his own proper growth, and not by addition; by education not by inducation. If it could be pumped into him, what prices would not be paid! Money, diamonds, houses, counties, for that costly power that commands and creates all these. But no,—the art of arts, the power of thought, Genius, cannot be taught.

In speaking of identity, I said, All things grow; in a living mind, the thoughts live and grow; and what happens in the vegetable happens to them. There are always individuals under generals, not stagnant, not childless, but everything alive reproduces, and each has its progeny which fast emerge into light, or what seemed one truth, presently multiplies itself into many.

Of course, this detachment the intellect contemplates. The intellect forever watches and foresees this detachment.

'Tis an infinite series. Every detachment prepares a new detachment. Of course, the prophecy becomes habitual and reaches to all things. Having seen one thing that once was firmament enter into the kingdom of change and growth, the conclusion is irresistible, there is no fixture in the Universe. Everything was moved, did spin, and will spin again. This changes once for all his view of things. Hint of dialectic: Things appear as seeds of an immense future. Whilst the dull man seems to himself always to live in a finished world, the thinker always finds himself in the early ages; the world lies to him in heaps and gathered materials;—materials of a structure that is yet to be built.

But, what is very curious, this intellect that sees the interval, partakes of it; and the fact of intellectual perception severs, once for all, the man from the things with which he converses. Affection blends, Intellect disjoins the subject and object. For weal or for woe we clear ourselves from the thing we contemplate. We grieve, but are not the grief; we love, but are not love. If we converse with low things, with crimes, with mischances, we are not compromised: and if with high things, with heroic actions, with virtues, the interval becomes a gulf, and we cannot enter into the highest good. "Artist natures do not weep."17 Goethe, the surpassing intellect of modern times, is spiritual, but not a spiritualist.

pg 167You may see it in any home in which the boy of genius is born: it makes him strange among his housemates. He can take what interest he pleases in their interests and pursuits,—he cannot be mixed with them. He holds a Gyges ring in his hand, and can disappear from them at will.18

"Many are the ways," said Mahomet to Ali, "by which men enter into Paradise; but thou, by thy intellect, art created near, and standest above them by many degrees of approach." Bonaparte, by force of intellect, is raised out of all comparison with the strong men around him. His marshals, though able, are as horses and oxen; he alone is a fine tragic figure, related to the daemons, and to all time. Add as much force of intellect again, to repair the large defects of his morale, and he would have been in harmony with the ideal world.

This inevitable interval is one of the remarkable facts in the natural history of man; a fact fraught with good and evil. It is only those who have this detachment, who interest us. If we go to any nation, who are those whom we seek? Who, but the men of thought. If we go to any society, though of seraphim, he only would engage us, who comprehended and could interpret the thought and theory of it; and that act does instantly detach him from them. That thought is the unfolding of wings at his shoulders.

The poet, in celebrating his hero, celebrates to the wise ear, his superiority to his hero, and announces to the intelligent the lowness of that he magnifies. Shall I say, 'tis an exquisite luxury,—for so I feel it,—the speech of those who treat of things by the genius of the things, and not by the facts themselves? What is vulgar but the laying of the emphasis on persons and facts, instead of on the quality of the fact?

Mr. Prose and Mr. Hoarse-as-crows inform me that their respected grandmothers died this morning, in this very room, an hour ago. I cannot bring myself to say, Alas! No, not if they should both suffer as their grandmothers did. But an engineer draws my notice to the electricity on a shred of paper; a mote may show the secret of gravity; or one of the masters of the world may show me how a feature of the human face obeys a moral rule; and open to me a new scale of means and agencies.

It is not to be concealed, that the gods have guarded this god-like privilege with costly penalty. This slight discontinuity which perception effects between the mind and the object, paralyses the will. If you cut or break in two a block of wood or stone, and unite the parts, you can indeed bring the particles very near, but never again so near that they shall attract each other, so that you can take up the block as one. That indescribably small interval is as good as a thousand miles, and pg 168has forever severed the practical unity. Such too is the immense deduction from power by discontinuity. There is a story in the nursery books (which always seemed to me to be a covert satire directed at the Universities and men of thought,) of Velent, who had a sword so wonderfully sharp, that its entrance into the body was hardly to be perceived.—"I feel thy sword," cried Æmilius, "like cold water gliding through my body." "Shake thyself," said Velent; he shook himself, and fell down dead in two pieces.

This interval even comes between the thinker and his conversation,—which he cannot inform with his genius.

There is, indeed, this vice about men of thought, that, you cannot quite trust them, not as much as other men of the same natural probity without intellect, because they have a hankering to play Providence, and make a distinction in favour of themselves, from the rules which they apply to all the human race. The correction for this insubordination is herein,—that religion runs in true and parallel lines, through the Intellect, as through Morals. All the powers and rewards of Faith, which we find in the Good, hold equally in the region of the True. Integrity is really the fountain of power, in one as in the other.

In regard to a poem of mine in which hints were given how the national Destinies would be likely to work out the problem of Mexican War, I remember something like this was objected.19

It is the office of the poet to justify the moral sentiment and establish its eternal independence on demoniacal agencies. It is the merit of New England that it believes and knows, that Slavery must be abolished. That faith and the expression of it, we demand of the poet.

In a poem for modern men, in these days of subserviency and adulation, the possibility of emancipation should have been made indubitable. There is a God to propitiate against this duality in Nature;—and the poet, whilst admitting the facts as they lie in nature, owes to that worship of the Best in the best men, the celebration of his own and the reader's faith in the possible reconciliation of things, that is, the bad force of things, with mankind.

This interval or discontinuity is every way a remarkable trait of intellectual action. I pointed out some of the many analogies between vegetation and intellection. Certainly, this is not the least. In the growth of the plant, cell grows out of cell, the walls bend inwards, and make two. In the instinct of progress, the mind is always passing—by successive leaps,—forward into new states, and, in that transition, is its health and power. The detachment which thought effects is the preparation for this step.

pg 169The brain and hands are hardly contemporaries. The brain is the ancestor of the man. The Intellect is the watchman, the Angel in the sun, and announces the far off age. All its laws it can read before yet the happy men arrive who enter into Power. But the rest of men must follow their heads; and if I can see their eyes, I will trust that they will soon be able to disengage their hands.

Every truth tends to become a power. Every idea from the moment of its emergence, begins to gather material forces, and, after a little while makes itself known in the spheres of politics and commerce. It works first on thoughts, then on things; it makes feet, and afterward shoes; first, hands; then, gloves; makes the men, and so the age and its materiel soon after. Astronomy is of no use, unless I can carry it into shops and sitting-rooms. He only is immortal to whom all things are immortal.

As certainly as water falls in rain on the tops of mountains, and runs down into valleys, plains, and pits, so does thought fall first on the best minds, and run down from class to class, until it reaches the masses, and works revolution. Let the river roll which way it will, cities will rise on its banks.

Nature obeys a truth. The earth, the stones, stir to own their law. See a political revolution dogging a book. See armies, and institutions, and literatures appearing in the train of some wild Arabian's dream. See all the ponderous instrumentalities which follow a speech in Parliament. What is personal power but the immense terror and love that follow a thought.

From the steamboat I like to mark the long wake in the sea, whitening the water for a mile or two astern. I like that the brain of the animal should be produced to a goodly length of tail. I like long hair, I like longevity, I like every sign of riches and extent of nature in an individual; but most of all, I like a great memory: "Stability of knowledge." I hate this fatal shortness of memory, these docked men whom I behold. We knew of Assyria and Egypt, of Dorians and Etruscans, of Macedon and Rome, and Gaul and England. We knew of geography, and natural philosophy, geology, chemistry, magnetism. We knew of poets and painters, we knew of hundreds of private persons, their lives, relations, fortunes. We gathered up what a rolling snowball as we came along, much of it professedly for the future as capital stock of knowledge.

Where is it all now? Look behind you. I cannot see that your train is any longer than it was in childhood. The facts of the last two or three days are all you have with you: the reading of the last month's books. Your conversation, your action, your face and manners report of no more, of no greater wealth of mind. Alas, you have lost something for every thing you have gained, and cannot grow. You are a lead stone put through steel-shavings, only so much iron will it draw. It gains new particles, all the way, as you move it, but one falls off for every one that adheres. The reason of the short memory is the shallow thought. As deep as the thought, pg 170so great is the attraction. An act of the understanding will marshal and concatenate a few facts. A new principle, will thrill, magnetise, and new divide the whole world. Yet 'tis amusing to see the astonishment of people over any new fact, as mesmerism. You would think they knew everything but this one, and there is no one thing they knew.

A deeper thought would hold in solution more facts. It is the law of nature that you shall keep no more than you use. The fishes that swim in the waters of the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky in darkness are blind.20 When the eye was useless, it ceased to exist. It is the eternal relation between power and use.

A man should not be rich by having what is superfluous, but by having what is essential to him like a manufacturer, or engineer, or astronomer who has a great capital invested in his machines. The question is, How to animate all his possessions? If he have any not animated by his quality and energy, let him sell them and buy things nearer to his nature. Such a rich man excites no envy. He has no more than he needs or uses. Give us a deeper nature, increase our affinities, and you add organs and powers. The oyster has few wants and is a poor creature. The Mammalia with their manifold wants are rich men.

The complex animals are the highest: the more wants the richer men. Men want everything. They are made of hooks and eyes and put the universe under contribution. Man is rich as he is much-related.

The more rich, the more expensive, the better. I would have vaster demands made, and rich men shown how to be rich. I never saw a rich man who was rich enough, as rich as all men ought to be. Rich men are powerless and unskilful spenders. Very few understand that art. It needs truly great wants to be greatly gratified. One would like that thoughts should spend! What an apparatus does not every high genius require! No handloom, no watch-wheel, but wheels that roll like the solar system. I think you must give him gardens, towns, courts, kings, earth itself and astronomies, a freedom of the whole City of God.

I like to see rich men seem rightly rich when I see them take more hold on the world, possess Niagara; possess the sea, the mountains.

Every truth leads in another. The bud extrudes the old leaf, and every truth brings that which will supplant it. In the true and real world the judge sits over the culprit, but in the same hour, the judge also stands as culprit before a true tribunal. Every judge is culprit, every law an abuse. Every fort has been taken. Every scholar has his superior. Life is on platforms. Montaigne kills off bigots as cowage kills worms, but there is a higher muse there, sitting where he durst not soar, of wing so swift and eye so keen, that it can follow the flowing Power, pg 171follow that which flies, and report of a realm in which all the wit and learning of the Frenchman is no more than the cunning of a beast.

The ground of hope is in the infinity of the world, which infinity reappears in every particle. The man truly conversant with life, knows against all appearances, that there is a remedy for every wrong, and that every wall is a gate.

Everyone's reading will have furnished him with how many examples of the parentage of those thoughts that make the value of literature. Every thought begets sons and daughters. In like manner, the history of politics, of philanthropy, for a short term of years shows a rapid filiation. From the Society for Abolition of Slavery sprang within a few years a Temperance, a Non-Resistance, an Anti-Church and Anti-Sabbath Movement.21

Every truth is universally applicable, thousand-sided. Every drop of blood has great talents; the original vesicle, the original cellule, seems identical in all animals, and only varied in its growth by the varying circumstance which opens now this kind of cell and now that, causing in the remote effect now horns, now wings, now scales, now hair; and the same numerical atom, it would seem, was equally ready to be a particle of the eye or brain of man, or of the claw of a tiger. In the body of a man, all those terrific energies which belong to it, the capability of being developed into a saurus, or a mammoth, a baboon that would twist off heads, or a grampus that tears a square foot of flesh from the whale or grampus that swims by him,—are held in check, and subordinated to the human genius and destiny. But it is ready at any time to pass into other circles and take its part in baser or in better forms. Nay, it seems that the animal and the vegetable texture at last are alike. Well, as thus the drop of blood has many talents lurking in it, so every truth is much more rich.

Every law detected in any part of nature holds in every other part. The law of music is law of anatomy, of algebra, of astronomy, of human life and social order. The Greek statues of the ancient temples of Jove, Mars, Venus, Diana, and Apollo are observed to have a family likeness. It is certain that these laws are all versions of each other. The symmetry and coordination of things is such that from any creature well and inly known the law of any other might be legitimately deduced. Palmistry, phrenology, astrology rest on a real basis. 'Tis certain that there is a relation between the stars and your wedding day, between the lines of your hand and the works done by it, between the activity of your brain and its outward figure,—there is a relation,—though you may easily fail to find it. The world, the Universe, may be reeled off from any idea, like a ball of yarn. Just see how the chemist, how the Christian, how the negro, each disposes of it with the pg 172greatest ease, after his own peculiar habit, and finds all the facts fit and confirm his view.

And each science and law is in like manner prospective and fruitful. Astronomy is not yet astronomy whilst it only counts the stars in the sky. It must come nearer and be related to men and their life, and interpret the moral laws. In learning one thing you learn all. Egg and stratum go together, as the naturalist found that the order of changes in form of the embryo in the egg from day to day determined the right succession of the fossil remains of species which had occupied the surface of the globe for geologic ages.

I had intended to add to these a few examples of specific laws; as, that every thought ranks itself; that there is a constant effort at ascension of state; that a certain motive force is the aim of education: a whip for our top. I but shall continue the inquiry in the next lecture.

Notes Settings


Editor’s Note
1. On page {3r} of the early version of this lecture printed in the electronic textual notes, Emerson specifies egotism, satire, and practicality as these "vices."
Editor’s Note
2. Quoted from Practical Philosophy of the Muhammadan People, trans. W. F. Thompson (1839) (see JMN, 9:286).
Editor’s Note
3. Jean Baptiste Van Mons (1765–1842), Belgian horticulturalist.
Editor’s Note
4. Marie François Xavier Bichat (1771–1802), French physiologist and anatomist.
Editor’s Note
5. Quoted from Chemistry in Its Application to Agriculture and Physiology, ed. Lyon Playfair (1842), by Baron Justus von Liebig (1803–73), German organic chemist (see JMN, 10:104).
Editor’s Note
6. Hudibras (1663–78), satirical poem directed against the Puritans by Samuel Butler (1612–80), English poet.
Editor’s Note
7. Nicolas de Malebranche (1638–1715), French metaphysician; John Locke (1632–1704), English founder of the sensationalist school of philosophy; Dugald Stewart (1753–1828), Scottish "common-sense" philosopher.
Editor’s Note
8. In contrast to Plato, who believed that actual things were the copies of transcendent ideas, were Leucippus, fifth-century b.c. Greek philosopher who founded the atomic school of philosophy; Lucretius (ca. 96–55 b.c.), Roman philosophical poet; and Marcello Malpighi (1628–94), Italian physiologist and founder of microscopic anatomy.
Editor’s Note
9. Quoted from Emanuel Swedenborg, The Principia . . . (1845–46) (see JMN, 10:26).
Editor’s Note
10. René Descartes (1596–1650), French philosopher and mathematician.
Editor’s Note
11. Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), Polish astronomer credited with founding the science of modern astronomy who believed that the planets revolved around the sun.
Editor’s Note
12. Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689–1755), French political philosopher; Baruch Spinoza (1632–77), Dutch philosopher and pantheist.
Editor’s Note
13. Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, III, iii, 175.
Editor’s Note
14. Attributed to Zoroaster, sixth-century b.c. Iranian religious philosopher (see JMN, 9:81).
Editor’s Note
15. Sophists, philosophers who flourished in the fifth century b.c., were noted for their subtle and allegedly spurious reasoning.
Editor’s Note
16. Some of these figures were identified by Emerson in an earlier version of this lecture: "the man who is the heir of all their faculty" is Louis Agassiz; "the king of chemists" is Emerson's brother-in-law Charles Thomas Jackson (1805–80), who is generally credited with the first surgical use of ether; Fourier's "disciple" is Albert Brisbane (1809–90), a reformer who helped introduce the Frenchman's ideas to America; Sir Charles Lyell (1797–1875), English geologist, but in the earlier version the geologist was Edward Forbes (1815–54), English naturalist and paleontologist; and "yonder mystic" is Sampson Reed (1800–1880), who promoted Swedenborgianism and, through his writings, helped Emerson to develop the ideas of correspondence and organic form. Also mentioned are George Bancroft (1800–1891), historian noted for his ten-volume History of the United States, begun in 1834, and Charles Sumner (1811–74), statesman and abolitionist.
Editor’s Note
17. Emerson quotes himself (see JMN, 11:12).
Editor’s Note
18. Gyges, seventh-century b.c. king of Lydia, was supposed to possess a ring that made its wearer invisible.
Editor’s Note
19. In "Ode, Inscribed to W. H. Channing" (1847), Emerson wrote "Go, blindworm, go, / Behold the famous States / Harrying Mexico / With rifle and with knife!" (ll. 15–18, W, 9:76).
Editor’s Note
20. See Emerson's letter to Lidian describing the Mammoth Caves in Kentucky in Letters, 4:211–14.
Editor’s Note
21. The Non-Resistance Society preached passive resistance to authority.
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